‘Faster response needed to curb runaway fires’
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