Community-Based Fire Management Kalimantan (IFFN No. 26)

Community-Based Fire Management: The South Kalimantan Experience

(IFFN No. 26 – January 2002, p. 46-53)


The European Union funded ‘South and Central Kalimantan Production Forest Project’ (SCKPFP) is assisting the government of Indonesia to develop an integrated, sustainable management system for production forests, in areas operated by private companies. Of fundamental importance, is the role of the community in fire management, as is fire management a part of sustainable forest management.

Community-based fire management is the key to over-coming the recurring problems of forest fires in Indonesia. This paper contains recommendations on community fire management, based on a field-level, ‘hands-on’ approach to the problem, through working with local communities, private sector companies and government agencies of South Kalimantan.

Local communities must establish fire management systems at village, sub-district and district levels. Such management systems aim to reduce the frequency of uncontrolled fires, encompassing both prevention and control methods. Communities need to be strongly supported by private companies and government agencies. With co-operative agreements, it is essential that neighbouring partners co-operate and co-ordinate to protect their areas from fire.

A prime need is to bring together villagers, companies and government agencies at the local level to prepare the ground for joint development of fire protection initiatives. District level fire crews are the foundation of any future system and must be formed, trained and equipped. Fire prevention is preferable to later fire control, thus fire prevention and pre-suppression procedures are considered paramount. Crew safety and the necessity for protective clothing and first-aid must be stressed. Training is continuing in the choice and use of equipment to suppress vegetation fires, and in basic fighting tactics. Field experience has shown the necessity to keep equipment simple, compatible and adaptable.

In the longer term there is a need to support local institutions to organise fire management mechanisms including incident command structures at province, district and local levels. Modern methods to anticipate and manage risk, allocate resources, and deal with crises are needed if periodic smoke and haze events are to be avoided. Such an organisation will need continued and substantial donor support. For now, well-trained, simply-equipped, district level teams from community are an effective and realistic beginning.


The main focus of the European Union funded ‘South and Central Kalimantan Production Forest Project’ (SCKPFP), working with the Ministry and Forestry, is to develop an integrated, sustainable management system for production forests in areas operated by private companies. SCKPFP is a 7-years technical assistance project organized in two phases of about 3,5 years each. The on-going activities are forest management, social and agriculture development, rehabilitation and reforestation of degenerated areas, remote sensing, GIS and mapping, industry and economics, environmental assessment. The fire management activities, started in April 2000, can be summarized as follows:

Fire Management Planning

Priority is given to the companies Aya Yayang Indonesia (South Kalimantan) and Dwima Jaya Utama (Central Kalimantan) but advices are also given to other logging concessions, plantation forests and risky areas of South and Central Kalimantan.

The concession holder is required to write and implement fire management plans for the land and to participate in general vegetation fire prevention and suppression programmes in neighbouring areas (e.g., access roads and firebreaks, water supplies and lookout towers, pre-attack planning and standard operating procedures). Holder companies must also establish a task force of forest firefighters that must be trained and equipped. Fire protection plans are integrated into the sustainable forest management models.

Training in Prevention, Firefighting and Rescue

At basic and manager level for the companies, governmental institutions, NGOs and local communities.

The fire crews are the foundation of any system to prevent and control fire. Without them, all the provided high technology is useless. Firefighting depends on well-trained crews kept in practice with regular theoretical and practical courses. Managerial staff need more advanced training in forest fire management, firefighting and rescue. ‘Tactical reasoning’, strategic pyramidal organization and tactical chain of command are concepts which are developed. SCKPFP has prepared and distributed four pocket books in Bahasa Indonesia: Pemadaman dengan peralatan manual, Pemadaman dengan pompa air, Pertolongan pertama pada kecelakaan and Perawatan pada korban luka bakar.

Research and Development

Fire behaviour, fire prevention and suppression techniques, firefighting equipment, in collaboration with the Reforestation Technology Institute of Kalimantan.

Field experience has shown the necessity to keep firefighting equipment simple, compatible and adaptable. For their safety, the firefighters need proper protective gear. Standardization will avoid money being wasted on the purchase of equipment that is too complex or slow during use, that is incompatible with other equipment, and that is sometimes hazardous to firefighters.

Research and development activities contribute also to determine and define appropriate standards for fire management techniques (e.g., fire breaks, fuel breaks, wetting agents).

Public Awareness and Community Based Fire Management

Through the University of South Kalimantan, Faculty of Forestry (Sylva Borneo Research Group and Mapala Sylva students’ NGO) in order to spread the knowledge to local communities.

It is recognized that fire prevention is preferable to later fire control and SCKPFP runs public awareness programmes. With the collaboration of the Faculty of Forestry, it is a major step forward if the concessions and plantations integrate key-communities into the protection management of the forests aiming at reducing the frequency of uncontrolled fires. All parties benefit if timber concessions encourage local communities to participate in fire management.

SCKPFP’s fire management component works closely with the Reforestation Technology Institute of Kalimantan (Ministry of Forestry) that has a long experience of forest fires in South and Central Kalimantan provinces. For each of the activities, the role of the community is of fundamental importance.

Support to be given to the community

Local communities must establish fire management systems at village, sub-district and district levels. Such management systems aim to reduce the frequency of uncontrolled fires, encompassing both prevention and control methods.

South Kalimantan remains poorly prepared to deal with vegetation fires on the scale experienced during the drought of 1997 and 1998. A similar picture exists in the other provinces of Kalimantan and in Sumatra: few fire crews with poor command and communications structures, and insufficient firefighting equipment. Moreover, problems caused by the large size of Indonesia and the lack of access (few roads, and by rivers in the wetland) are not easy to overcome. Over the past decade numerous recommendations have been produced by donors organisations, NGOs and research centres. Forest fire-related projects funded by the European Union and the German and Japanese governments have already made valuable contributions to understanding fires and developing forest fire prevention and control in Indonesia.

The success of community involvement schemes depends on mutual trust, a commodity that has been singularly absent in the past and which will thus take time and patience to develop in the future. Figure 1 below shows that the prime need is to bring together villagers, companies and government agencies at the local level to prepare the ground for joint development of fire protection initiatives.

Support from Companies

Field experience in Indonesia shows that usually the only working model is of privates companies with valuable assists to protect, and permanent teams of well-trained, well-equipped, well-paid men to do the job. The concession holder is required by Indonesian regulations to write and implement fire management plans for the land and to participate in general vegetation fire prevention and suppression programmes in neighbouring areas. Companies must also establish a task force of forest firefighters that must be trained and equipped. With co-operative agreements, co-ordination with neighbouring concessions is needed. Most fires start outside concessions and enter as wildfires.

As noted earlier, it is essential that local communities be involved in that mechanism. Neighbouring concessions need to discuss:

  • Communications to co-ordinate fire management operations
  • Early warning and fire danger issues
  • Plans to establish and safeguard fuelbreaks (patrolling) along the borders of the concessions
  • Approaches to and co-operation with local communities
  • Training and awareness campaigns
  • Sharing of equipment and personnel in the case of fire

Figure 1. Example of co-operation with assistance from NGO and SCKPFP.

Co-ordination with the District Forestry Head Offices is also necessary. Districts are the keys to the formation of a competent institutional system of fire management within each Province. Fire management planners from the logging concessions and plantation forests need to establish strong links with the District forestry officers. At times of medium or high fire danger, companies put their fire management organization on red alert and coordinate fire prevention activities with the District forestry head office, the village fire crews and the neighbouring companies.

Support from Government Agencies

Officially in charge of forest and land fire protection, government institutions must support the communities. District level staff of the Ministry of Forestry have to form the backbone of an upgraded firefighting system although people from many other agencies must also be included. Volunteer firefighters from the communities have a part to play: not least because villagers have an extensive knowledge of fire as used in traditional land clearing. But all have to be commanded by official and well trained fire bosses.

By Decree No. 35/1995 dated 14 August 1995, the Regional Government of South Kalimantan established a provincial centre for forest fire suppression (Pusat pengendalian kebakaran hutan dan lahan). But the weakness of the existing radio communication network limits the efficiency of the Incident Command System that still needs to be improved.

In some Districts, the same year, operational teams have been officially constituted with civil servants from the Forestry and Soil Conservation Service (Dinas Perhutanan dan Konservasi Tanah). At community level, some village heads decided to create a team of volunteer firefighters in order to protect forest land and farming fields from fire. But the villagers teams still need firefighting equipment, protective gears and appropriate training.

Support from South and Central Kalimantan Production Forest Project

Donor organisations like European Union do their best to give support to the Indonesian fire management organization that is still weak. SCKPFP gives support to the concession PT. Aya Yayang Indonesia in South Kalimantan for fire management plans and training in firefighting. Collaboration with PT. Dwimajaya in Central Kalimantan (second SCKPFP’s pilot area) will start beginning of year 2001. In collaboration with the Reforestation Technology Institute of Kalimantan, SCKPFP gives also support to government agencies with training in firefighting at basic and manager levels. For each of the training sessions, some villagers are part of the trainees.

Support from NGOs

In order to develop specific training for communities at a large scale, SCKPFP and the Reforestation Technology Institute of Kalimantan have started a strong collaboration with two NGOs from the University of South Kalimantan. Based in the Faculty of Forestry, Sylva Borneo Research Group is a teachers’ NGO and Mapala Sylva is the students’ organization. In November 2000, more than 100 students and 10 teachers have been trained in forest fire prevention and control. Next step will be to spray the knowledge to communities in priority forestry sectors of South and Central Kalimantan before the next dry season.

Field-level approach of the community

Communities’ Experience with Fire

The main asset of the communities is that they have a good knowledge of forest and land fires. Small farmers are already wise to the practical use and risks of fire. In areas of established farmlands, much of the tree-crops, usually rubber, damaged by wildfires in drought years is not a serious problem. Farmers recognise land that might pose a fire risk to established crops – areas of Alang-alang, semak belukar and various untended parcels of land within the mosaic of productive land. These are burnt over by the local adjacent land-users early in the dry season to preclude the development of wildfires later in the season when control would be more difficult.

Land Clearance with Fire

Zero-burning methods of land clearance are imposed to the companies. But for rural communities, fire is the favoured means of converting forest and land to agricultural use quickly and cheaply. Nevertheless, the use of fire for land clearance must be strictly controlled. High risk appears with illegal land clearance by fire that occurs more and more within the concessions. It is reported that illegal logging and illegal land clearance are often done at the same place and time. Indonesian authorities are inefficient to stop these actions, thus fire risk is high at the end of the dry season. In September 2000, around 1200 ha. of forest, beside the main access road, have been illegally destroyed and burnt to make farming lands within the concession PT Aya Yayang Indonesia (South Kalimantan). One month before, following a request from that company, the fire management section of SCKPFP and the Reforestation Technology Institute of Kalimantan advised the managerial staff from PT Aya Yayang Indonesia to control – since not possible to stop – the ‘forecasted illegal burnings’. Names and permanent addresses of these people were registered. In the frame of a Controlled Burning Plan, they were asked to provide a burning schedule and to prepare firebreaks for each block of 2 to 5 ha. Finally, fire crews from the company have supervised these operations without difficulties owing to the early beginning of the rainy season.

Responsibility and co-ordination

Volunteer forest firefighters from villages might take the main active role in the Provincial Mobilisation Plan. Community fire crews are placed under the operational authority of District level responsibles from the Ministry of Forestry in charge of the Incident Command System (Fig.2). Co-ordination with the other partners present at field level is paramount.


Figure 2. From the Provincial Mobilisation Plan to the Local Fire Management.

The communities need to be identified and included in the fire protection mechanisms. The route to success is to compensate local communities to prevent fires, as well as paying them to form volunteers fire crews. Volunteer firefighters from community need a social protection system with accident insurance. This is an absolute necessity because fighting the fire is dangerous, thus the private companies might pay for that social security cover. As a further incentive to community involvement, properly trained and equipped village fire crews can be paid to patrol close to the village and to maintain the fuel breaks on the concession boundaries.

Fire prevention

It is however recognized that fire prevention is preferable to later fire control and SCKPFP runs extensive prevention programmes. For fire prevention and pre-suppression, subjects covered include the access roads, firebreaks and fuelbreaks, water supplies and lookout towers, pre-attack planning and fire management standard operating procedures (SOPs).


A major aid to fire prevention is the engineering of fuelbreaks prior to the dry season. They are readily defensible zones around an area to be protected. The breaks will not in themselves stop a fire from entering a protection area but they do provide a site from which to more easily stop an advancing fire. Fuelbreaks can be planted with merchantable timber if the species are fast growing and form a dense canopy under which grasses and other flammable species are quickly shaded out. They require regular cleaning prior to and during the dry season.

Access Roads

A reasonable network of access roads exists within the forest, built to deserve villages or to allow commercial exploitation. Roads are absent within the coastal wetlands of Indonesia but access rivers are numerous and there is an extensive system of canals dug for failed drainage schemes. Logging concessions use also light railway systems with moveable tracks that lead into the areas being logged. Access roads, canals and railways are an important part of the fire prevention plan. Easy access is essential to allow patrolling, early detection and, to arrive as quickly as possible at a fire.


Are a bulldozer-made discontinuity in a bed of fuel and are used to segregate, stop and control the spread of fire; or to provide a control line from which to suppress a fire. Firebreaks differ from fuelbreaks in that they have a complete lack of combustibles down to mineral soil. Firebreaks are best constructed in strategic locations while not under pressure during the wet season rather than as a hasty necessity as a fire approaches.

Water Supplies

Water has a high capacity to absorb heat and is therefore a very efficient agent to extinguish forest fires. Ready supplies from rivers, lakes or dams are needed to fill tanks, trucks and sources for pumps as well as for use in camp. Quantity and the accessibility are points to consider. The installation of man made sources and access are a part of fire management planning where natural sources of water are limited.

Lookout Towers

Lookout towers are a way of providing early warning of fire occurrence. They are permanently manned during times of high fire risk. Towers are useful in conservation forest and plantations where the area to be protected remains unchanged from year to year. They are less useful in logging concessions – the newly logged areas that most require protection change from year to year, often over considerable distances. Towers should be built on hill top sites to increase the area of view. But planners must bear in mind that lookouts are rendered pointless when smoke levels rise; new fires cannot be seen.

Pre-Attack Planning:

Pre-attack fire plans address a number of points:

  • the location of fire lines, base camps, water sources
  • transport availability, probable travel time to a fire for all types of attack units
  • and, constraints to travel
  • the need to construct additional fire lines, the probable rate of this construction
  • and topographic constraints to construction.

In addition, forest type, fuel type, fuel amount and fuel arrangement are analysed to assess the fire risk faced by the concession. This first assessment is then modified according to:

  • topography
  • number of access roads
  • access to natural and man-made water sources
  • water availability during dry spells
  • villages within or near the concession
  • risky land clearance practices near the concession (e.g. timber, pulp or oil palm plantations)

The end result is a schedule of activities geared to the approach of the fire season and which covers routine staff preparation, fire prevention, equipment maintenance, etc.

Fire Management Standard Operating Procedures:

Fire management Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for prevention and suppression depend on the current and expected short-term fire danger rating, as well as on long-term predictions for El Niño occurrence and severity. The intent is that drought, a rising fire danger and weather forecast when taken together, trigger pre-planned fire prevention, pre-suppression, and/or suppression activities. The method tells managers exactly what they need to do given a particular set of weather and fire danger rating parameters. This takes the guesswork out of preparing for a period of high fire risk.

 Training of forest firefighters

A shortage of competent fire staff at all levels severely limits fire prevention and control efforts throughout Indonesia. Priority is given to the teaching of the basics. These can be summarized as the training of (i) fire crews of 5 – 20 people organized as a unit, (ii) crew bosses – the men-in-charge of the fire crews, and (iii) the fire bosses those responsible for all suppression and service activities at a fire.

The current thinking and priorities on firefighter training are from countries with a long history of combating forest fires and tailors these to Indonesian conditions. The adaptations are based firmly on the long-term field-based experience in Kalimantan. They have been tested and shown to be appropriate.

The theoretical and practical training of firefighters is best carried out by local instructors (Tab.1). The first step is thus to train-the-trainers. The second is to spread the knowledge within to ensure the establishment of the modern, well-adapted organization that is urgently needed.

Table 1. Example of a basic training program used in South Kalimantan province.

Days 1 and 2: Theory
Fire Terminology and Legislation
Fire Behaviour, Weather and Topography
Fire Danger Index and Global Positioning System
Fire Prevention, Patrolling and Detection
Fire Suppression Techniques
Command, Communication and Discipline
First aid and Safety
Fire Reporting

Days 3 and 4: Practice
Tool Use and Safety
Crew Organization
First Aid
Fireline Construction Techniques
Direct and Indirect Attack
Water use
Mop Up Techniques

Practice Fire

The minimum theoretical knowledge and practical experience that is required to train the forest firefighters includes the terminology and theory of firefighting, the chain of command, the need to anticipate and the importance of communications. Practical components covered in the training course are intended to acquaint trainees with the essentials of fire behaviour and fire suppression techniques. Hands-on experience in the use of equipment under controlled conditions is seen as an essential pre-requisite before new recruits face a wildfire. Firefighting is dangerous and physically demanding. Safety is stressed and a module on first aid included.

Firefighting equipment

Field experience has shown the necessity to keep equipment simple, compatible and adaptable. Overly complex equipment is never used or is quickly broken. Equipment should not be distributed without training in its use. Firefighters need proper protective clothing to minimize personal risk.

Research and development activities by SCKPFP and the Reforestation Technology Institute of Kalimantan contribute to determine and define appropriate standards for fire prevention and firefighting equipment (e.g. individual protective equipment, effective hand tools, backpack pumps, and collapsible tanks).

A secondary aim of equipment standardization is to help Indonesia to develop local fire equipment manufactures where none exist today. Backpack pumps and fire rakes were specially produced in South Kalimantan to a design by the Reforestation Technology Institute.

Table 2 below lists the contents of equipment sets for a 15 member village fire team. Fire managers should construct similar lists applicable to their own crew requirements.


Table 2. Example of equipment set for a village fire crew (volunteer firefighters) of 15 men.

Type of Equipment Number
Fire rake 3
Fire shovel 3
Fire swatter 3
Machete 15
Chain saw 1
Backpack pump 3
800 l collapsible tank 1
Protective clothing and water canteen 15
First aid kit 2
Handie-talkie radio 1
Crew transport truck (or boat) with mobile radio 1

IFFN/GFMC contribution submitted by:

Marc V. J. Nicolas
Fire Management Specialist
South and Central Kalimantan Production Forest Project (European Union)

Jalan Yani No. 37 (Km 35)
Banjarbaru 70711
Kalimantan Selatan

Fax:            ++62-511-781613


H. Sukhyar Faidil
Fire Management Specialist
Reforestation Technology Institute of Kalimantan (Indonesian Ministry of Forestry)

Country Notes
IFFN No. 26

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