Lithuania: Forest Fires (IFFN No. 24)

Forest Fires in Lithuania

(IFFN No. 24 – April 2001, p. 35-40)


Forests cover an area of 1 978 000 ha or 30.3 percent of the territory of Lithuania. The forest area per capita is 0.53 ha.

As of 1 January 2000 the ownership distribution of forests is the following: State-owned forests – 53.8 percent; private-owned – 18.9 percent; the remainder of 27.3 percent are in the transition state to be privatised. Currently 150 800 forest owners who have the proprietary right to manage forests have been registered (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Distribution of forest ownership in Lithuania (1 January 2000)

Pine forests make up 42 percent, spruce stands 26 percent, and hardwood deciduous trees 4 percent of the state-owned forests. Private forests comprise 32 percent of pines, 20 percent of spruce and 5 percent of hardwood deciduous trees (Figure 2).

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Figure 2. Species composition of forests in Lithuania

 Forest Fire Hazard

In accordance with the Forest Fire Prevention regulations the Lithuanian forests fall into three natural fire hazard classes (high, medium and low) which are defined by the relation between the total habitat area and the coniferous undergrowth of up to the age of 40 years.

The distribution of fire hazard classes is as follows: high – 40 percent, medium – 23 percent, and low – 37 percent (Figure 3). Forests of heterogeneous (mixed) natural fire hazard are distributed unevenly. They fall under the class of high fire hazard, thus contribute to the overall large area of this category.

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Figure 3. Distribution of forest stands in Lithuania classified byfire hazard

In terms of fire hazard nine forest massifs are at highest risk, including Varena (51 400 ha), Labanoras (35 800 ha), Kazlu Ruda (45 000 ha), Rudninkai (11 100 ha), Viešvile-Smalininkai (16 400 ha), Kapciamietis (29 800 ha), Lavoriškes (15 600 ha), Šimonys (9 700 ha) and Kuršiu Nerija (9 800 ha) (Figure 4).

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Figure 4. Map of large forest and bog complexes in Lithuania

The Kuršiu Nerija massif is rated in the highest natural fire hazard class on nearly 100 percent of the forest cover within its territory. The entire peninsular area of Kuršiu Nerija including its settlements is surrounded by water with the Baltic Sea in the West and the Kuršiai lagoon in the East. An additional factor of high fire danger in the pine forests of Kuršiu Nerija is the frequent occurrence of strong winds. Recent fire events confirm this classification: 60 ha were burned in 1995 and 9 ha in 1999.

Peat fires cause a lot of problems in the country. However, in the course of privatisation a lot of peat bogs have lost their owners and become unattended. In future these peat bogs may be at high risk during the fire season.

In terms of the fire hazard nine peat bogs are the most endangered, including Tyruliai (3 000 ha), Laukesa (2 000 ha), Traksedžiai (1 800 ha), Palios (1 500 ha), Ežerelis (1 300 ha), Šepeta (700 ha), Šiluvos Tyrelis (600 ha), Sulinkai (600 ha) and Baltoji Voke (500 ha). Between 1994 and 1999 a total of 288 fires occurred in the peat bogs.

Challenges for Fire Management

State forest-enterprises are faced with the complicated task to extinguish peat fires due to the lack of special fire equipment. The fire and rescue brigades, which are subordinate to the Fire and Rescue Department, carry out the basic work of putting out peat fires. The fire brigades often enjoy assistance in receiving fire equipment from other institutions involved through the municipality level.

Pursuant to the Law on Forestry of the Republic of Lithuania the integral state system of fire prevention measures is applied within the forest territories of the Republic. Measures include forest fire surveillance, prevention and fire protection. The main objectives of the system are to reduce forest fire hazard, improve fire prevention; increase resistance of forests to wildfires, and to forecast, detect and extinguish fires.

Forest managers, owners and users are responsible for the fire protection status within their forest territories; however, they tend not to allot funds to the forest fire control.

The state forest-enterprises, state park organisations and municipalities should allot financial resources in order to implement the integral state system for fire surveillance and extinguishing in accordance with the Law on Forestry of the Republic of Lithuania. Yet, all these activities are financed only from the funds of the state forest-enterprises and state park organisations.

Issues of fire control in privately owned forests have not yet been resolved up till now. They do not pay any taxes either.

Prevention Measures

Officials from the State Fire Prevention Service in cooperation with the officers of the State Forest Service are in charge of supervising forest fire prevention in the forests throughout Lithuania. The State Fire Prevention Inspectorate and the State Forest Service are responsible for planning and implementation of an annual package of fire prevention measures within their area of responsibilities. Fire prevention measures include the following:

  • information of the public about fire danger and fire risk through the mass media;
  • state forest managers and private forest owners as well as enterprises in charge of peat-bogs and railway routes are required to renew (maintenance) or establish firebreaks, to put up fire places that meet fire safety requirements in the rest areas, to repair fire watch towers and fire equipment before the beginning of the fire season, and to put up warning signs and billboards;
  • enforcement of strict control measures of forests and peat-bogs during the critical fire season; to pay regular inspection visits to the areas mentioned;
  • information of county or city municipalities about the deficiencies discovered on site;
  • the State Fire Prevention Inspectorate and the State Forest Service officials shall inflict administrative penalties on the violators of the fire safety regulations.

The awareness campaigns through the mass media are functioning and the system to control the fire-prevention obligations of forest owners and managers are implemented as well.

Forest enterprises undertake measures of fire-prevention and forest management. In forests of high fire danger class the special measures are designed and implemented: Forests are divided into blocks and separated by firebreaks (mineral strips) and fuelbreaks (belts of broadleaved trees); forest roads are cleaned. In Lithuanian forests a network of 28 500 km of roads provides approximately 14.4 km of roads per1 000 ha of forests. With this network of forest roads and the coverage of fire lookout towers it is possible to detect and suppress fires adequately.

Legislation and Law Enforcement

The main legislative documents regulating the requirements of forest fire safety include the Law on Forestry, the regulations on forest fire safety, the Code for the Violation of the Administrative Law and appropriate decisions of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania on issues of fire safety as well as legal acts of the Department of Forests and Protected Areas and the General State Forest Enterprise (GSFE).

The General State Forest Enterprise is in charge of implementing the integral state system of fire prevention measures that include measures for surveillance, prevention and fire protection. The GSFE in cooperation with the state forest managers and regional administrations as well as the city and county municipalities take responsibility in organising the implementation of this system and the forecast of forest fires as well as prevention and the announcement of the possible danger to the Lithuanian citizens through mass media.

The amendments to the Administrative Code of Law Violations were introduced in 2000 and regulate the penalties for violations of fire-prevention and environment protection rules. Private forest owners have to take full responsibility for fire-prevention measures.

Fire Management Organisation

Forest fire protection in Lithuania is under the responsibility of 42 state forest enterprises and four state park organisations. For forest fire surveillance 124 fire watch-towers equipped with surveillance and communication devices have been built in the country.

During the highly critical fire season the state forest enterprises and national park organisations keep an elevated watch in accordance with the standard operating procedures.

The fire brigades of the state forest enterprises and the state park organisations are responsible for extinguishing all forest fires that occur in Lithuania. Only in the case of failure to put out a forest fire the city and county fire and rescue units are called up for assistance.

In the event of an emergency caused by a large fire situation and when the fire and rescue services of the city (county) forces, the state forest enterprises, state park organisations and other forest-peat bog managers as well as private owners fail to control the fire, the Regional (County) or the Government Emergency Management Centres take over the control of the situation through the regional and state levels concerned.

The fire and rescue services subordinate to the Fire and Rescue Department respond to emergencies in coordination with the fire teams of the state forest enterprises and state park organisations.

Criteria for Declaration of an Emergency

On 24 February 2000 the Lithuanian Government approved the Criteria for Emergencies in the Republic of Lithuania. Natural forest and peat bog fires make up one of their fields that are described in Table 1.

In case of emergencies the Lithuanian armed forces and units of the National Guards also render assistance in extinguishing forest fires.

For extinguishing forest fires the state forest enterprises handle fire teams equipped with fire trucks and communication devices that include 50 fire vehicles as well as about 600 radio stations and mobile telephones.

Table 1. Criteria for declaration of a forest fire emergency in Lithuania

Emergency type


Description (including
Units of measurement)

(value, size)

Forest Fires
Extremely high fire hazard – predictable fire danger
Favourable conditions for fire break out Probability (%) 30 ÷ 60
Fire danger class IV
Fire danger index 4 000 ÷ 10 000
Extreme conditions for fire break out Probability (%) 61 ÷ 100
Fire danger class V
Fire danger index ³ 10 000
Fire size Ha ³ 3
Danger for settlements or individual households Yes / no yes
Distance to gas pipeline network Distance (m) £ 350
In a coniferous forest Forest fire hazard class 1 or 2
Severe injuries or fatalities Persons ³ 1
In forests of high fire hazard Fire / no fire fire
In the most hazardous forests & forests massifs in terms of fire risk Fire / no fire fire

Peat–bog fires
Fire and smoke
A nearly burnt (or completely burnt down) farmstead household or a farm building Unit ³ 1
In the most hazardous peat–bogs in terms of fire risk Fire / no fire fire

Residential areas affected by smoke
In case of forest or peat–bog fire: densely populated residential areas downwind
Lithuanian cities, towns, settlements Yes / no Yes
Towns, small towns, settlements: inhabitants need to
take precautionary measures or to be evacuated
Total number of inhabitants residing in that area (%) ³ 25

The forest fire guard or lookout of a fire team must inform the nearest fire and rescue service of the Fire and Rescue Department about each fire. The state forest functionaries and directors of the state forest organisations are responsible for establishing such fire teams and providing them with means of fire extinguishing, transport and communications.

A forest safety engineer or other specialist is appointed as a forest fire safety leader to be charge of the fire teams. The leader is responsible for the training and control of the team members. The main and reserve fire teams are set up in the state forest enterprises. Fire teams on duty are set up in the case when forest areas of high fire danger are located more than 20 kilometres from the headquarters serviced by one fire team. The reserve fire teams consist of 15-20 firemen who are ready to quickly respond. They consist of a group of people at their work places employed in timber processing and repair shops, timber warehouses etc.. These teams are accommodated with an assembly location where they usually keep their necessary stock of fire extinguishing equipment and outfit.

The organisational questions of forest fire control (fire extinguishing, the mobilisation and deployment of technical and human resources) are being decided on the municipality, regional and city levels with the assistance of organisations and companies from the territory of municipalities. Operational fire control plans provide special measures for reciprocity and the coordination of actions among the fire control parties involved. Access to forests in some Lithuanian regions could be restricted or other measures could be taken if required. The General Forest Enterprises control and coordinate fire detection, fire control and the implementation of fire prevention measures.

Forest Fire Statistics

During the period 1991 to 1999 the total of 5 856 forest fires occurred in Lithuania, affecting a total area of 3 100 ha. Thus, an annual average approximately 600 forest fire destroy 300 ha of forest stands and cause losses in the magnitude of 0.5 million LTL (Litas), equivalent to $US 2 million. The average size of a forest fire is about 0.5 ha. The number of forest fires has extremely increased during the favourable meteorological conditions, e.g., in 1992 and 1999 (Figure 5). Most forest fires are caused by negligent behaviour of tourists and forest visitors (70 percent), careless grass burning in spring 14 percent), and arson (16 percent).

The process of forest ownership restitution is still going on and many private forest owners are taking back their property. Nevertheless, the number of forest fires in private forests is increasing as well. (1997 – 14.6 percent, 1998 – 25.1 percent, 1999 – 24 percent out of total number of forest fires). Many private forest owners are living in the cities and cannot take care of their property – a major reason why the number of forest fires in private forests is increasing.

A big problem in Lithuania is the burning of dry grass in spring. This tradition is very old. However, it is often not understood that grass burning can cause a forest fire; about 40 ha of forests are ignited and damaged by grass burning every year. The State Environment Protection Inspection, its regional authorities, together with the officers of the Fire Prevention Department, make efforts to eliminate this tradition.

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Figure 5. Number of forest fires in Lithuania, 1989-1999


Problems Ahead

The main reasons why it is so difficult to organise forest fire suppression and undertake fire-prevention are:

  1. There is no unified program for forest and peat-bog fire prevention and suppression.
  2. The financing mechanism of fire prevention measures in state and private forests is not defined yet.
  3. The technical base in state forest enterprises and national parks is too old and inefficient; the possibility to renew it is limited due to poor funding.
  4. The legislative system and the damage recovery mechanisms are not efficient enough.

Contact address:

Gerimantas Gaigalas
Department of Forests and Protected Areas
under the Ministry of Environment
Forestry Development Division
Juozapaviciaus 9
LT-2005 Vilnius

Fax: ++370 2 72 20 29
Tel: ++370 2 72 82 75


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