‘Faster re­sponse needed to curb run­away fires’

Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - Weekly News Wrap -

The ad­vance­ment of tech­nol­ogy to de­tect for­est fires is mak­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact on the preva­lence of fires, but re­sponse times still need to be re­duced to pre­vent huge losses in com­mer­cial forests, which then spread to res­i­den­tial ar­eas.

This is ac­cord­ing to

Philip Frost, re­search group leader for earth ob­ser­va­tion ap­pli­ca­tions at the Coun­cil for Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search’s Mer­aka In­sti­tute.

Speak­ing at the re­cent Agri­cul­ture and Forestry Expo’s fire tech­nol­ogy day in White River, Mpumalanga, Frost said: “Apps that pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the im­me­di­ate threat of fires, his­toric fire sta­tis­tics, and cir­cum­stances that could pose a threat will as­sist in de­ter­min­ing the level of re­ac­tion to a fire and thereby pre­vent fires that get out of con­trol.”

He said his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion was cru­cial in pre­dict­ing fu­ture fires as it al­lowed fire pre­ven­tion au­thor­i­ties to ac­cu­rately de­ter­mine the threat level in­stead of tak­ing a blan­ket ap­proach.

“There are 19 unique fire re­gions in South Africa and a generic low fire dan­ger in­dex [FDI] in one re­gion can mean a high dan­ger in an­other, due to that area’s spe­cific cir­cum­stances. We should there­fore not treat all ar­eas the same when de­ter­min­ing the FDI and the sub­se­quent re­ac­tion.”

his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion is needed to pre­dict fires

Frost said cam­eras were cru­cial for early de­tec­tion of white smoke, but needed to be used in con­junc­tion with satel­lite tech­nol­ogy that pro­vided aerial views to see in which di­rec­tion the fire was mov­ing. Dr Gavin Hough, the CEO of En­vi­roVi­sion So­lu­tions, said Mpumalanga was the only prov­ince where the fire fre­quency was de­clin­ing, and this was due to rapid re­sponse. “We need to turn early de­tec­tion into rapid re­sponse, which re­quires a proper vig­i­lance sys­tem, [as well as] greater com­mu­nity in­volve­ment and buy-in to re­duce ar­son.”

Con­cerns about a lack of govern­ment aware­ness cam­paigns to in­form the pub­lic about pre­vent­ing and re­port­ing fires were raised at the expo. Frost noted that although the Na­tional Veld and For­est Fire Act reg­u­lated how fires were con­trolled and pre­vented, it was not be­ing im­ple­mented by govern­ment. “Ad­e­quate [fund­ing] was never al­lo­cated for com­pli­ance, so although the guide­lines are there to pre­vent the kind of fires we saw in Knysna last year, noth­ing is ac­tu­ally be­ing done.” – Lindi Botha

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