Forests account for 44 percent (2 870 000 ha) of Latvias total land area (64 589 km2). From region to region of the country the forest cover varies between 30 and 60 percent. The most wooded regions are in the west, the most sparsely forested in the south and southeast.
Of the total forest area, 1 493 000 ha (51.8 percent) are owned by the state, 1 276 000 ha (44.2 percent) by 250 000 private owners and 2.8 percent by agricultural enterprises. Other ownership categories (municipalities, church, etc.) make up 1.2 percent. Private holdings are small on the average 10 ha. Only 0.05 percent of the private owners have forests larger than 100 ha.
The dominant tree species (in percent of the forested area) are as follows:
About 20 percent of the coniferous forests (accounting for 60 percent of the total forest stock) are subject to high fire-hazard, especially young stands. Also, medium-age and near-mature stands of pine and spruce on dry mineral soils, making up 44 percent of the total forest area, have high fire hazard levels. In dry summers, fire may also become a problem in the bogs, which account for 3.8 percent of the countrys land area.
Organization of the forest fire conservancy
The State Forest Service (SFS), a state civil administration institution under the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for enforcing a unified forest policy and supervising compliance with the forest management and utilization laws and regulations. The forest fire conservancy is one of the functions vested in the SFS by act of law. The fire safety regulations set forth the basic rules for fire conservancy and the preventive actions to be taken. These regulations are mandatory for forest owners, holders and persons visiting the forest.
The SFS effects its functions via its territorial units in 26 regions. Their area of jurisdiction is identical to the administrative-territorial regions of the country. These regional entities are comprised of 197 Forest Districts. The work of forest fire control is organized following the Instructions on Forest Fire Conservancy.
To deal with cases of fire, each Regional Forest District, depending on the fire hazard level, has one or several forest fire stations equipped with a fire truck (or trucks) and a crew of three to four members for each truck.
Before the fire season, which normally starts in mid-April, each crew takes a short refresher course of instruction. In hot and dry summers, when the SFS cannot cope with the situation on its own, other state institutions are also involved in forest fire control. Mutual cooperation agreements have been made with the State Fire Safety and Rescue Service of the Ministry of the Interior, the State Joint Stock Company Latvijas valsts mezi, which manages the state forests and the Forestry Board of the Riga City Municipality, which owns over 50 000 ha of forest. The closest cooperation is with the State Safety and Rescue Service, which deals with all cases of fire in the municipal and local government forests.
Moreover, each year each Regional Forest District draws up an operational plan of fire safety identifying the manpower and hardware resources needed for forest fire control. The plan is approved and its execution supervised by the local authorities.
The forest fire conservancy is financed from the state budget. The SFS fights forest fires in all forests, irrespective of ownership.
A network of fire lookout towers is intended to detect and follow up on the development of forest fires (Figure 1). The fire observer on the tower informs the person on duty at the forest district office and the fire station about the situation by telephone or via radio communications. The location of the fire is identified on a map and an initial attack fire crew is dispatched.
Figure 1. Map of fire lookout towers and fire stations in Latvia
Forest fire occurrence: fire statistics
As can be seen from the statistics for the period 1980 to 1999, some fire seasons are quite serious. An overall tendency toward a more frequent occurrence of fires and more area burned can be noted (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Forest fire statistics of Latvia, 1980-1999 (Average number of fires: 549; average area burned: 661 ha)
Differences between the regions of the country are also apparent (Figure 3). The frequency of forest fires is higher in the vicinity of settlements and the biggest cities Riga, Daugavpils and Ventspils.
Figure 3. Distribution of forest fire occurrences in Latvia by region, 1980-1999
The average area burned by a fire event only exceeds 1.0 ha in some years (Figure 4). Occasionally, large forest fires break out. The year 1992 was especially disastrous in this respect two conflagrations at the same time that burned 3 300 ha in each case. Large areas of peat bogs were affected, too. The most recent disaster was in 1999 in Kemeri National Park where the burned area was 377 ha. In dry summers close to the autumn season, bog fires are especially devastating because of difficult access and the shortage of water supply in the vicinity of bogs.
Figure 4. Average area affected by a forest fire event in Latvia, 1991-1998
An analysis of fires shows negligence to be the main cause (Figure 5). A lot of fires are started by people visiting the forest and by the burning of agricultural residues (straw, last years grass, etc.).
Figure 5. Distribution forest fire causes in Latvia, 1980-1999
To predict the fire situation, the SFS, under an agreement with the State Hydro-meteorological Board, receives weather forecasts and a map showing the level of forest fire hazard on a daily basis.
Great attention is paid to the improvement of radio communications and the compatibility between communication systems. Thus, outdated radio stations are being replaced by Motorola products. The SFS also expects to procure a specially equipped MI-8-MTV-1 helicopter this year.
In working out a new approach in forest fire conservancy, the SFS places great emphasis on a professional, well-trained and technically equipped unit within the State Fire Safety and Rescue Service.
Arnis Gertners Director, Forest Protection State Forest Service Janvara Str. 15 1932 Riga LATVIA