Review of 1998 Forest Fire Season and
Current Fire Situation in China
5 August 1999
1998 Forest Fire Statistics
In 1998, the total number of forest fires occurred in China were 4,455, the total forested area damaged was 27,424 ha. There were 38 people killed and 78 wounds due to the fires. Compared to 1997, the number of the fire increased by 80.7%, but the damaged forest area decreased by 22.6%. Only one large fire occurred in Inner Mongolia in spring.
Serious Situation in 1999
From the beginning of the 1999, an unusual drought occurred throughout the major parts of South, Southwest, East and North China, and created conditions favourable for the ignition and spread of forest fires. According to preliminary (not yet completed) statistics, only in the period of January and February, 2,073 forest fires broke out, which damaged 12,191 ha of forested areas, and accounted for 3.7 times and 9.5 times increases in comparison with the same period in 1998. Remarkable casualties were reported from these fires. The fatalities and injuries were 33 and 198, while in the same period last year, it was just 1 and 32. It has been rarely experienced for most recent years in China that the fires come so rapidly and the damages resulted so seriously. By analyzing the reasons of the disastrous situation, the following characteristics are noted:
Unfavourable climate conditions: High temperatures and very low precipitation in most parts of China started in the winter of last year and continued to this spring. The day with with strong winds increased. All these factors caused high and long-lasting fire hazard.
Forest fuel accumulation: From last summer, the temperature had kept high and sufficient rains had been down in most part of the country, some of where even flooded. These conditions promoted rich growth of grass and bush vegetation, which, particularly inside and around the forests, have contributed to the availability of dangerous fire fuels in the current fire season.
More human-caused fires: After the floods the needs for wood materials and number of people entering the forest increased, despite the fact that cutting limitations were issued in natural forests. Increased presence of people in the forest contributed to a high ignition risk which was difficult to control.
Forest fire control equipment shortage: Flooding occurred in most forest areas last year and had badly damaged the fire control facilities, e.g. roads, bridges, fire check spots, communication infrastructures etc.. These facilties could not be renewed in a short time and these circumstances have greatly reduced the capabilities in fire prevention and suppression.
Wang Dong Forest Fire Prevention Office
Ministry of Forestry
100714, He Ping Li