Pre-publication of the Argentina Country Report “Forest Fire Situation in Argentina” for the FAO Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000): Special Report on Forest Fires
(to be published by the FAO in early 2001)
Fire environment, fire regimes, and the ecological role of fire Extending from 22°S to 55 °S, Argentina presents a great diversity of ecosystems associated with the different climates. Fire is present in the different vegetation associations, varying in frequency, intensity, and time of the year in response to the different habitat types, frequency of lightning storms, strong dry winds, and rainy seasons. In the southern territories where the rainy season occurs in winter, wildfires start in late spring and last until early summer. Moving northward in the country, fires tend to occur in autumn and winter associated with the dry seasons. In addition to the environmental factors, fire occurrence in the different regions is affected by such human factors as cultural practices, varying population density, tourism affluence, and characteristics of fire suppression activities.
Narrative summary of major wildfire impacts on people, property, and natural resources that occurred historically According to anthropological evidence, indigenous pre-Columbian populations used fire extensively for hunting, clearing land for grazing, and other purposes. These fire influence may date back to 8000 years BP, or generally to the early Holocene (Goldammer 1991). It should be pointed out that natural fires have been present in the different ecosystems in a degree that has not been well documented. With the European settlement fire started to be used intensively as a management tool to convert land for productive purposes, which included agricultural activities and livestock. Reports of expeditions to Patagonia in 1906 and 1914 (Rothkugel 1916, Willis 1914), indicated that extensive areas burned to open land for grazing. In the northern area of the country, post Columbian fires are described in documents left by explorers and Jesuit missionaries (Kunst 1997). During the last century, an increasing number of fires have been reported in most areas of the country, mainly due to human factors. During atypically dry seasons, as in the 40´s, 60´s, and 80´s in Patagonia, human sources contributed to extreme fire situations in the region (Rodriguez unpubl.). In the Mesopotamia, located in the northeastern extreme of the country, the extensive pine and eucalyptus plantations are often affected by lightning fires that did not occur with that frequency in native vegetation. In some areas around Patagonian coastal cities, many ranchers have abandoned their ranching activities. The lack of grazing allowed the recovery of vegetation, increasing the shrub and grass components and ultimately fire hazard (Defossé et. al 1999). Urban/wildland interface fires have become a very significant and constantly increasing problem during the last decade.
Narrative summary of major wildfire impacts on people, property, and natural resources during the 1990’s Some of the major events were:
1993: The province of La Pampa, in the central region of Argentina, experienced an unusual fire season. 1,227,440 hectares of grassland and shrublands were affected with great economic losses. This is four times above the annual average.´ 1994: On 21 January, 25 firefighters died in a rangeland fire in the coastal area of northeastern Patagonia. 1995/1996: During the 1995/1996 season, large wildfires affected the Patagonian/Andean Region in general and, in particular, the oldest National Park in the country. The public was shocked because of the possible effects of the fire on the ecosystem and on the economy of the region, strongly dependent on tourism and forest resources. In response to this situation, the Federal Government of Argentina established, in late 1996, the National Fire Management Plan. 1999: Large fires affected the central and southern areas of the country. One of the oldest pine plantations in Patagonia was lost, causing a great impact to the community. Two fatalities were caused by two different fires. 2000: The Mesopotamic region went through an unusually critical fire situation since early summer. The fires affected large pastures and eucalyptus and pine plantations, causing great impact on the forest related activities.
Fire management organization The National Fire Management Plan provides a system of coordination and federal support to the provinces in fire management related activities in Argentina. Its administrative scheme is as follows:
Fig.1. Fire management organization
National Coordination: The National Coordination is responsible for providing regional centers with equipment and technical support, developing and coordinating prevention plans, promoting research activities, providing personnel training, coordinating suppression activities as required by regional authorities, and organizing aerial operations. It shares with the Native Forests Resources Direction, also dependent to the Secretary of Sustainable Development and Environmental Policies, the responsibility for producing fire statistics.
Regional centers: The Fire Management Plan has grouped provinces with similar fire behavior and occurrence problems into six regions and installed a regional center in each of them. These centers are responsible for the development and implementation of a fire management program for the provinces under its jurisdiction. The provincial governments coordinate activities with the different local administrations and are responsible for the initial attack of fires.
Fig.2. Map of Regions
Tab.1. Wildfire statistics 1990-99
Total No. of Fires on Forest, Other Wooded Land, & Other Land No.
Total Area Burned on Forest, Other Wooded Land, & Other Land ha
Area of Forest Burned 2 ha
Area of Other Wooded Land and Other Land Burned3 ha
Human Causes %
Natural Causes %
Unknown Causes %
– – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – –
Comments: * Non-discriminated forest type: 25,700 ha ** Non-discriminated forest type: 80 ha 2 includes plantations and natural forests 3 includes grasslands and shrublands
Use of prescribed fire to achieve resource management objectives Controlled fire is being introduced as a technique to reduce fire hazard in forest plantations, through research and extension projects conducted by the Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Fishery and Food. In many areas of the country fire is used with different objectives, such as reducing slash and for other cleanup, though these burns are not conducted under a prescription plan and often escape and cause large fires.
Public policies affecting wildfires and fire management The lack of common criteria and standardization of procedures for fire management among the different Argentine provinces has historically created difficulties. Recognizing this situation, the National Fire Management Plan is working towards setting standards in the country for different aspects of fire management, such as personnel training, personnel certification programmes, fire danger rating, and prevention guidelines.
Community involvement in fire management activities Communities mainly become involved in fire management through Non-Governmental Organizations with different interests, such as safety in interface areas or preservation of fauna and flora. There is also an increasing number of private consortiums strongly interested in an active cooperation with state organizations to improve fire protection for their forests.
Report prepared by: Argentine National Fire Management Plan, Secretary for Sustainable Development and Environmental Policies. Email: email@example.com Country correspondent: María C. Dentoni, Technical Staff, National Fire Management Plan. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bibliography Defossé, G. E., Rostagno, M. C., del Valle, H. F. and M. B. Bertiller. 1999. Respuesta de la Vegetación al Fuego en el Noreste del Chubut. Internal report PIA-CONICET N°6387/97. 26 pp. Goldammer, Johann G. 1991. Fire in Forest and other Ecosystems of Argentina: A Synopsis with Recommendations for Fire Ecology Research and Development of Fire Management Systems. Consultoria ex IFONA. Kunst, C. 1997. El fuego y sus dos enfoques. Capítulo 1. Fuego Prescripto en plantaciones de pino. Documento preparado para uso en Seminarios de Quemas prescriptas en plantaciones forestales. Posadas. Misiones. Rodriguez, Norberto. Historia de los Incendios en los Bosques Andino Patagónicos. Documento Técnico. Informe Interno Centro de Investigación y Extensión Forestal Andino Patagónicom (unpubl. mimeo). Rothkugel, M. 1916. Los Bosques Patagónicos. Ministerio de Agricultura de la Nación. 200 pp. Willis, Bailey. 1914. El Norte de la Patagonia. Naturaleza y Riqueza Tomo 1. Informe de la Comisión de Estudios Hidrológicos.