Fires in Viet Nam

 Fires in Viet Nam

22 April 2002

Update from the GFMC

The fire expert, Mr. Brad Sanders, dispatchedto Viet Nam on Saturday 21 April 2002 (see Update of 20 April) has arrived onsite. After a briefing in the Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development(MARD) in Ha Noi on 21 April he left for the fire site in U Minh Thuong NationalPark. The assignment for the assessment mission has now been prolonged until 27April 2002.

On 20 April 2002 at 1700 loacal time hereported  scattered rain andovercast in Ho Chi Minh City.

From Viet Nam News, 20 April 2002

Wildfires raging through U Minh Ha forest inthe Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of Ca Mau since last week have finally beenbrought under control.

U Minh Ha forest fire put out after protracted fight
CA MAU — The wildfires raging through U Minh Ha forest in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Deltaprovince of Ca Mau since last week have finally been brought under control.
The blaze in Section 072 of U Minh Farm No. 3, which threatened the Vo Doi protected forestsome 1,000m away, was extinguished on Wednesday morning, according to chief commander of the committee to combat forest fire, Vo Thanh Binh. About 10.000 soldiers, policemen and local residents joined in the efforts to combat thefire and protect the 4,000-ha Vo Doi forest.
Fire-fighters dug a 4-km trench and gathered 6,000 people along the ditch, ready toprevent the fire from spreading to Vo Doi.
Unfortunately, at least 4,000ha of forests in the U Minh Farm No. 1, U Minh Farm No. 3and Tran Van Thoi Farm (in U Minh Ha Forest) were destroyed by the week-long fire.
“Firemen had a difficult time managing the fire because there was no access for enginesand equipment to get to the site,” said lieutenant general Huynh Tien Phong, commander of the Military Zone 9.
So far no deaths have been reported in the U Minh Ha forest.
Meanwhile, forest fires have also ravaged hundreds of hectares of Bac Ai forest in thesouthern province of Ninh Thuan.
More than 30ha of the 61ha Tan Tien Farm have been destroyed. Fires were also reported at the 40,000ha Sat River protected forest in Ninh ThuanProvince.
Bac Ai forest, a well-known revolutionary base during the resistance wars, producesmany types of hardwood.

Southern Provinces still scorched bydrought, no respite in sight: experts
Ho Chi Minh City – Weather experts have saidthere is not much relief in sight from the prolonged drought that has inflictedhuge losses on the agricultural sector in southern Viet Nam.
According to the Southern Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Station, not muchrain is expected in the near future, except for some light late afternoon rains.The dry season will drag on until next month, it predicts.
The drought has thus far caused an estimated loss of VND203.3 billion (US$13.3million) on farmers in affected provinces.
The Water and Hydraulics Management Department says 7,561 ha of rice, 2,580 haof cash crops and 358 ha of vegetables have perished due to lack of water forirrigation. Another 28,739 ha of rice, 32,900 ha of cash crops and 4,990 ha ofvegetables are under serious threat of destruction. The provinces are Long An,Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Kien Giang, Can Tho, Bac Lieu and Ca Mau in the Cuu Long(Mekong) Delta have been worst hit by the drought.
These provinces are considered the rice basket of Viet Nam. Most of thenation’s rice for export is produced here.
The reported loss does not take into account the fire that has razed large areasof the U Minh Thuong and U Minh Ha cajeput forests in the southernmost provincesof Ca Mau and Kien Giang.
The drought has dried up most of the lakes and water reservoirs. Undergroundwater levels have also plunged a metre lower than in the 1997-98 dry season,arguably the worst to date.
The dry season normally last from November to April in the southern part of thecountry, but the region has received no rain from late last year until lastweek.

Wildfire ravages Bai Giang forest
Bac Giang – Fires completely destroyed more than20ha of forest in Luc Ngan Forest in the northern province of Bac Giang earlythis week.
The fire is believed to have spread from a nearby slash-and-burn operation, butthe local forest management board has not yet identified the culprits.

Valiant southern farmer gives his all toprotect timeless family benefactor
Kien Giang – (paraphrased) Farmer Nguyen Phu Cuong was speechless and hadtears in his eyes upon viewing burned cajeput trees. While gathering water fernsin a reservoir at U Minh Thoung Forest reserve, someone cried out that a forestfire had started. As he exited the pond, bruising his knee on tree roots, hejoined 5 other men, his wife, and 2 neighbors and traveled 10 kilometers (2hours) to the fire with knives, wash basin, baskets and shovels. Cuong dividedthe crew into 2 groups, one to dig a fireline and the other to extinguishflames. After 6 days and 5 nights, experiencing 60°C temperatures and thicksmoke, they suppressed the fire and checked it for 2 more weeks to ensure noreburn. But “in summer, the fire may burst out again at any time,” he said.Cuong and others are pre-constructing firebreaks around 15 ha of forest theywant to protect from a future fire. Cuong is committed to save the forestsaround his home in Kien Giang province not only because he’s a former forestranger, but for a deep love and respect that is filial in nature. He and hisfamily depend on the forest for food and he would protect it from fire even ifit meant dying. During his firefighting efforts, Cuong’s house caught on fire,but his second child received help from neighbours to extinguish it. Cuong usedhis savings to pay men who helped. Coming from a poor family that existed ontree roots, leaves, herbs, bee honey, fish, and hunting, Cuong recalled that hisparents and grandparents were very dependent on the forest. Forest land wasreduced by population pressures. Cuong became a forest ranger when U Minh Thuongforest was declared a National Park, but he had to eventually quit and lease 5ha on a buffer zone to do farming. He still feels responsible for the forest.Banh Van Dom, Director of the National Park, said that Cuong helped save over100 ha of cajeput forest. Cuong’s courage and dedication has won praise fromthe Kien Giang Province Forest Protection Department and MARD. Park Director Domsays, “If everyone loves the forest like Cuong does, the U Minh Thuongdisaster would not have happened.
Source: VNS

LatestSatellite Image

Forestfires and land-use fires in Viet Nam, including the fire disaster zone in U MinhThuong National Park, acquired by the Moderate-resolution ImagingSpectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on 22 April 2002.

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Fires can be seenin southern  Viet Nam
Imagesearch support at:

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Precipitationforecast for Viet Nam for 23 April 2002, 07:00 local time.
(Source: ECPC Fire Weather Index Forecast)

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Precipitationforecast for Viet Nam for 20-27 April 2002
(Source: ECPC Fire Weather Index Forecast)

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(FireWeather Index (FWI) forecast for Viet Nam for 23 April 2002, 19:00 local time.
(Source: ECPC Fire Weather Index Forecast)

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FireWeather Index (FWI) forecast for Viet Nam for 20-27 April 2002.
(Source: ECPC Fire Weather Index Forecast)

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FireWeather Index (FWI) forecast for Viet Nam for 30 March to 27 April 2002.
(Source: ECPC Fire Weather Index Forecast)

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 Duffmoisture content (typical for peat-swamp layers) provided
by the ASEAN FireWeather Information System (Source: ASFWIS)

Somevisual impressions from the fire sites:


Inferno:Fire blaze in U Minh Thuong National Park. Source:VNS Photo Hoang Tri Dung


Damagecontrol: A canal is dug in an attempt to curb the spread of a wildfire that isdevastating the U Minh Thuong National Park. Source: VNA/VNS Photo by TrangDuong

For thea local situation assessment published by Viet Nam News: See the story “Allhands on deck as forest fire rages on” (6 April 2002):

For alocal weather forecast predicting the continuation of the dry spell, see:

ForGFMC reports on fires in Viet Nam see:

Seephotographs that includes effects of fire in Melaleuca forests of Vietnam:
GFMCPhoto Archive Viet Nam

 FirstReport by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Ref:OCHA/GVA 2002/0081
OCHASituation Report No. 1
Vietnam- Forest Fire
9April 2002

Thisreport is based on information provided by the UNDP Office in Vietnam, theDisaster Management Unit and media reports.

 Eventand Impact

1.A forest fire, that started on 23 March in the 8,000‑hectare U Minh ThuongNational Park in the southern province of Ca Mau, is now raging out of controland threatens to destroy thousands of hectares of forest.Temperaturesin the heart of the forest have soared to 50 degrees Celsius and reachedthousands of degrees in the 0.5 to 1.5 metre‑thick smouldering peat andcoal layers. The combined high temperatures and strong winds have occasionallyproduced large fireballs, endangering the remaining forest and hampering effortsto extinguish the fire. A prolonged drought has severely limited theavailability of fresh water, which is hindering fire‑fighting efforts. UMinh Thuong Forest is ranked as the world’s second richest and largest mangroveforest after the Amazon rain forest in Brasil.
2.The fire is believed to have destroyed over 4,000 hectares of virgin forest.This will affect the lives of thousands of poor families living in the area, andwill also have significant ecological impacts, including loss of biodiversityand habitat to local species.


3.Thousands of policemen, military, forest rangers and local residents have joinedforces to combat the fire. Fire fighters have isolated approximately 5,000hectares of virgin and newly planted forest by digging a 6 metre wide, 3metre deep and 10 metre long canal, along which more than 100 pumpsare running 24 hours a day to provide water for the fire fighting effort. A 10metre‑wide fire prevention belt is being cleared. So far, digging ditchesaround the burning areas has been the only way to halt the spread of the fire.
4.The police and armed forces were mobilised on Tuesday, 2 April to assist thefire fighters, and military units are said to be at the forefront of the effort.
5.The provincial authorities have mobilised all tractors and pumps owned byresidents in neighbouring areas.


6.No request for international assistance has been received by OCHA to date.
7.OCHA is in close contact with the office of the United Nations ResidentCoordinator in Hanoi and will revert with further information.
8.This situation report, together with further information on ongoing emergencies,is also available on the OCHA Internet Website at

Lastreport by the Environment News Service

(forphotographs: see

FieryInferno Engulfs Vietnamese National Park

Hanoi,9 April 2002 – Thousands of policemen, military personnel, forest rangers andlocal residents have joined forces to fight a fire eating its way through U MinhThuong National Park in the southernmost province of Kien Giang.
Theforest fire, which officials say started on March 23, has been raging out ofcontrol. A report of Vietnam’s official news agency VNA today says firefightershave contained the blaze but not before it destroyed an estimated 4,200 hectaresof peat swamp forest, wiping out about half the national park.
Temperaturesin the fire’s core area have hit 50 degrees Celsius and reached thousands ofdegrees in the deep layers of burning peat and coal beneath the forest floor.
Combinedsoaring temperatures and strong winds have occasionally produced largefireballs, endangering the remaining forest and hampering efforts to extinguishthe fire.
Thesmoke is rising from the U Minh Thuong blaze to join the smoke from many firesthat currently dot the landscape across much of Southeast Asia, filling theskies with a thick blanket of smoke over much of the region.
Thisis normally the dry season, and in addition, a drought that has lasted since theEl Nino weather pattern of 1998 has limited the availability of fresh water,making firefighting a tough job.
Sofar, digging ditches around the burning areas has been the only way to halt thespread of the fire.
Firefightershave isolated about 5,000 hectares  ofvirgin and newly planted forest by digging a six metre wide, three metre deepand 10 metre long canal, along which more than 100 pumps are running day andnight to provide water for the fire fighting effort. The provincial authoritieshave mobilized all tractors and pumps owned by residents in neighbouring areasto draw water from existing canals criss-crossing the area.
Thenational park is part of a large area of seasonally flooded Melaleuca swampforest north and west of Ca Mau town near the shores of the Gulf of Thailand.The peat swamp forests of U Minh comprise a mosaic of forest fragments separatedby rice fields, settlements and canals. The northernmost forest fragment is UMinh Thuong which normally floods during the rainy season and dries out in thedry season
Dr.Julian Thompson, lecturer in physical geography at the University College Londonwho did research in U Minh Thuong in 2001, says the inner forest or StrictlyProtected Zone of about 8,130 hectares “has been impacted by humanactivities such as canal construction and logging in addition to frequent fires.The impact of these factors has been the erosion of much of the peat layeraround the forest margins.”
Describingthe area for the World Conservation Union, Le Dien Duc wrote, “In the past,this region was famous for its dense Melaleuca forests. However, during the waryears the region suffered serious damage from bombing and the extensive use ofnapalm and toxic chemicals, and since then, large areas have been cleared fortimber and agricultural land or destroyed by forest fires. Only some 63,000hectares of forest remain, and much of this, such as the U Minh Thuong forest,is in very poor condition.”

Thecause of the current fire is unknown. Officials say an investigation will takeplace after the fire is out.

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