As of January 1997 the forest resources of Belarus comprised 9 088 700 ha and cover 36 percent of the territory. With a share of 74.2 percent the Ministry of Forestry is the main holder of forests. The remaining 25.8 percent belong to the Department of Defence, the National Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Education, national parks and forest reserves, and the administration of the office of the president of Belarus.
The forests under jurisdiction of the Ministry of Forestry consist of coniferous forests (67.1 percent), hard leaf forests (4.2 percent), and soft leaf forests (28.7 percent). The main trees species are pine (56.4 percent), birch (17.9 percent), fir (10.7 percent), black alder (7.3 percent), oak (3.6 percent), and aspen (1.8 percent). High wildfire hazard is prevailing in coniferous forests with understory fuels (25.2 percent), and middle-aged coniferous forests (27.7 percent). (Note: the percentage numbers refer to forested lands.)
Five Fire Hazard Classes are distinguished. Class 1 represents the highest fire hazard, Class 5 the lowest (Table 1). The mean fire hazard level of all of Belarus is 2.3.
Table 1.Distribution of forest resources of Belarus by Fire Hazard Class
Fire Hazard Class
Between 1988 and 1997 a total of 27 612 forest fires burned an area of 34 808.7 ha of forest land (0.6 percent of all forest land). The average size of a fire was 1.26 ha. This average area burned by fire is 2.14 times greater than during the period 1978 – 1987 (0.59 ha). Some forest fires spread over several hundreds of hectares. Between 1978 and 1997 years with highest fire occurrence were 1979, 1983, 1984, 1992, and 1995. The most critical fire year was 1992 when 7 444 forest fires burned 1 9701.7 ha. The highest number of wildfires occurred in May (27.2 percent), and the largest area was burned in August (39.6 percent). Between 1988 and 1997, surface fires were most frequent (92.1 percent of all fires) and burned most of the total area affected by fire (64.9 percent).
The presence of large areas of coniferous forests with understory vegetation provides conditions favourable for the transformation of surface fires to crowning fires (26.2 percent of the total area burned). Ground fires occurred only during extremely dry years and had a share of 3.5 percent of all fire incidents that burned 8.9 percent of the total area affected by fire.
Table 2. Wildfire database of Belarus, 1990-2000
Total No. of Fires on Forest, Other Wooded Land, & Other Land
Total Area Burned on Forest, Other Wooded Land, & Other Land
Area of Forest Burned
Area of Other Wooded Land and Other Land Burned
Forest fire protection organisation
Fire prevention in the forests under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Forestry are is implemented by the State forestry departments, nine aerial fire protection groups and three air bases of the State enterprise Bellesavia. There is no private forest sector in Belarus.
The main responsibility for fire prevention is with the Regional Executive Committees and the Executive Committees of the Districts. Their tasks are:
Planning of annual fire protection measures
Organisation of preparedness of fire protection personnel, technical equipment, and responsibilities for fire suppression
Establishment and maintenance of access roads and aerodromes
Organisation of public awareness and education campaigns for fire prevention
There are 188 fire-chemical stations in forest districts and in areas of high fire hazard in order to allow timely response to wildfires. As of 1996 there were 636 caches of fire suppression equipment located in those forest districts where fire-chemical stations are absent. Fire brigades are set up during the fire season which consist of forest workers. In addition local people and personnel as well as engineering capabilities of local enterprises and organisations are mobilised and integrated.
The Ministry of Forestry is responsible for the overall coordination, analysis, and financing for new technologies and methods for forest fire control. Fire detection is executed by executed by the forest service by means of ground patrol, tower observation and aerial patrol. A total of 26 lookout towers are equipped with TV and remote infrared fire detection and environmental monitoring systems. The local population plays an important role in early forest fire detection. The Department of Science of the Ministry of Forestry coordinates the work of scientific institutions in the field of fire control through government programs and contracts.
Use of prescribed fire
The use of prescribed fire is banned by law in Belarus.
Sustainable land-use practices employed in the country to reduce wildfire hazards
For the decrease a forest fire hazard levels in the various forest types of Belarus the following actions receive priority:
Silvicultural measures for reducing wildfire hazard in coniferous forests, particularly the introduction of less flammable and economically valuable broadleaved tree species intermixed in pure coniferous stands
Thinning operations and sanitary cuts
Construction of anti-fire barriers consisting of :
Fire breaks and internal fuel breaks
Fire resistant forest edges
Shaded mineralised shelter belts.
Public policies affecting wildfire impacts
The Forestry Code of the Republic of Belarus was enacted on 14 July 2000. According to this legislation the main fire protection tasks include fire detection, fire containment and fire suppression.
It will be necessary to create a multilevel system of fire suppression and extinguishing on the basis of streamlined land and aerial forest fire prevention services supported by spaceborne remote sensing information. It will be necessary to use systems of early forest fire detection, and to improve fire fighting capabilities by introducing new and expanding established fire fighting technologies.