Spring fires have come with the continuously dry weather, and are on the rampage all over the country. Areas close to the East Sea last year were met with excessive damage, and already people are concerned because the same region is again experiencing an especially high concentration of wildfires. The employees of the Korea Forest Service (KFS), firemen, and local residents have been mobilized to work together to fight these fires. Prevention education, patrols, and awareness campaigns are going on night and day, and yet the fires still burn on.
Even those who have only seen the damage after fires have come and gone know how fearsome forest fires can be. What was once verdant vegetation is turned to ash. The ecosystem is so completely destroyed that the loss is difficult even to calculate, and it takes trees fifty years to grow back again. During this time these areas are defenseless against storm and flood damage, and organisms of all varieties are not able to reproduce.
All this, and still every year there are more fires covering an ever wider surface of the country. The experts see the increase as being entirely the fault of human beings. These are calamities that could be avoided if only we were more careful and better prepared, but carelessness continues to cause the same kind of damage, over and over again. There were 729 forest fires recorded last year, five times more than the 139 that occurred in 1991.
According to the Korean Forest Service (KFS), there were far fewer wildfires before the date of 15 March 2001 than during the same period last year, but during the twelve days between 16 and 27 March the fires have started catching up, and they’re breaking out all over the country. No less than 186 fires have flamed up since 16 March 84% more than the 101 that occurred in during the same time last year.
Of the 104 fires this year which authorities have determined the causes, 80, or 77%, were caused by controlled burning of dry fields and rice paddies, or from the burning of agricultural waste. The other 24 have been determined to have been caused by cigarettes.
Prevention is of course the best way to avoid damage from forest fires. Our forests are becoming denser every year, and this is part of the reason for the ever increasing potential for more fires. The only option is to intensify enforcement of fire laws and prevention activities. Arsonists of course deserve stronger punishment, but so do people who start fires accidentally, and increasing penalties will help spread awareness.
There is also a pressing need for more firefighting equipment. The KFS currently has seven helicopters working emergency overtime in the East Sea region, but fires spring up wherever they want to, and officials say their equipment is insufficient to fight them effectively. There needs to be at least two new helicopters and additional ground support.