In the late eighties forest fire is still the worst calamity threatening Italian forests. From 1978 to 1988 the national statistics reported an annual average of about 11,600 fires sweeping an area of 147,000 ha (of which 52,000 are wooded, equalling c.0,6% of the total Italian forest area of 8,675,000 ha as evaluated by a recent National Forest Inventory). Normally the main forest fire season is summer over the central and southern regions and the islands. A secondary fire season affects the northern regions and high mountains in winter and early spring.
From January to March 1989 a block of atmospheric circulation caused an exceptional drought and favoured the spread of dangerous fires, especially over the northern regions. By way of compensation the following seasons were relatively mild and wet. At the end of the year the total number of fires was 9,669 and the total area burned 95,161 ha (45,933 ha wooded), less than the average of previous years. As regards the areas burned, the regions most affected were Sardinia, Liguria, Lombardy, Piedmont, Tuscany and Calabria.
Unfortunately in 1989 fires killed 32 people (20 of them in Sardinia, mostly tourists), three times as many as the average of previous years. Such casualties have caused big concern and emotions on public opinion and politics.
In 1990 drought was even worse and calamitous. Neither rain nor snow for several months and sometimes strong winds. From January to June areas swept by fire exceeded the total losses of the previous year. The summer turned also to be dry and hot. Despite all efforts of forest fire services, from January 1 to September 30, according to provisional data, the national statistics reported about 11,400 fires sweeping a total area of 174,866 ha (93,058 ha of them wooded, the highest figure in Italian forest fire history). The regions most affected by wildfires were Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Tuscany and Calabria. In August a big fire swept about 1,300 ha of pinewoods and brushlands close to Livorno (Tuscany) but aircraft and ground forces succeeded in preventing losses to human lives and houses.
On the whole fire causes are more and more worrying. Natural causes are less than 0,5%. The incidence on areas burned depends on arson (60%) or negligence (25%). The remaining causes are dubious or unknown.
Measures for forest fire prevention and control
Prevention activities do not take a great step forward because of the crisis in forest economy and growth of hazardous fuels and crime and arson as well. Therefore forest protection has to rely mainly on suppression. In 1990 the total expenditures of the State and the Regions in fire prevention and control were about 300,000 million lire.
As regards airborne equipment, in the same year the Ministry for Coordination of Civil Protection disposed of airplanes belonging to the Air Force (one Lockheed C-130 and three Aeritalia G-222), to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (four Canadair CL-215), and of helicopters belonging to the Army (3-4 Chinook CH-47) and to the Navy (Two AB 212) as well as of other two Canadair CL-215 rented. The State Forest Corps operated with its ten light helicopters NH 500 and with its new five helicopters AB 412 s (carrying a bucket with a capacity of 900-1000 litres). Almost all regions rented more than 30 light planes for detection and 35 helicopters for initial attack. Altogether more than 90 aircraft were used in fire detection or extinction. The total hours flown were close to 20,000.
High technology for forest fire detection
Since 1979 television systems for forest fire detection are developing all over the country. At present more than 15 systems with 30 television cameras connected by radio (microwave band) are operational from Piedmont to Apulia. Colour television cameras tent to replace the older black-and-white models.
After the experience carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry with the Italian Company Selenia, a national law (Nr. 38 of 28 February 1990) has financed the installation of integrated detection systems with infrared detectors and television cameras over the areas most exposed to fire in Sardinia, Liguria and Sicily, for a total amount of 90,000 million lire in the period 1990-1992.
From: Giancarlo Calabri Chief, Forest Fire Service Address: Ministero dell’Agricoltura e delle Foreste Direzione generale per l’Economia e per le Foreste Via Carducci 5 I- 00187 Rome