Korea: Forest Fires – Background, Statistics, Management and Research (IFFN No. 13 – July 1995)

Forest Fires:
Background, Statistics, Management and Research

(IFFN No. 13 – July 1995, p. 16-17)

The Republic of Korea is located on a peninsular between 124-131° E and 33-43° N, between the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. Of the four distinct seasons spring and fall are relatively short, while summer and winter are long, with annual mean temperature ranging from 3-16° C and annual precipitation ranging between 600 and 1,600 mm. According to the 1993 forestry statistics forests cover 6.46 million ha, occupying 65% of the total land area. Coniferous forests account for 45%, hardwood forests 25%, mixed forest 27%, and unstocked areas 3%. The growing stock of the Korean forest was estimated to be 272 million m3 in 1992. Forest land ownership is as follows: national forest 21%, public forest 8%, and private forest 71%.

The Forest fire situation:
A turning point in the history of Korean forest policy was witnessed in 1973 by the initiation of two of the successive 10-year forest development plans. As a result, 2 million ha were reforested, which is approximately 34% of total forest land. Thereafter, as the forests grew, wood fuel and ground litter increased. The forests have been exposed to the risk of forest fire by the increases in ground fuel and number of visitors. Therefore, Korean foresters are facing a new task of protecting forest land from fire disasters.

Based on to the official statistics collected since 1987, there is no record of fire from natural causes. All fires have been caused by humans, especially by careless burning by local people. Major causes of forest fire were careless weed burning in the spring season, activities of people visiting ancestors’ graves, etc. The majority of forest fires (>80%) occur in the spring and fall. Detailed forest fire statistics are given in Table 1.

Because most cases of forest fire were caused by careless human activities, it seems to be important to reinforce fire prevention activities based on anthropogenic causes. A headquarters for forest fire control has been established in the Forestry Administration, and local fire control centres are in operation with national forest stations distributed in provincial, city and county levels.

  Tab.1. Forest fire statistics of the Republic of Korea forthe period 1987 to 1991

The forest fire prevention period is designated as follows: Spring (1 March to 31 May) and fall (15 November to 15 December). Major activities during those periods are to strengthen campaign, patrol and other prevention measures (Tab.2).

For a long time fire fighting was done with green branches, rakes, shovels, hand saws, hatchets and hoes. However, in recent years, aerial fire fighting with helicopters, chainsaws, and motor pumps have come into use.

Tab.2. Fire danger levels estimated by weather conditions

* E.R.H.: Effective Relative Humidity

Forest Fire Research

The Forestry Research Institute of Korea has carried out the following research activities:

  • Development of a fire management system with the following subcomponents:

– Computer-supported forest fire danger rating model
– Forest fire detection system
– Forest fire suppression model

  • Fire suppression technology using helicopters and ground personnel
  • Aerial application of foam and other chemical fire retardants
  • Fire ecology research.

From: Si-Young Lee

Forestry Research Institute
Forest Fire Laboratory
207, Chongryangri 2-Dong
Seoul 130-012
Republic of Korea

Country Notes

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