Forests in Latvia cover 45 % of the surface of the country, mainly located in the Western regional districts of the country. The forest cover percentages in the different districts are given in Figure 1. Information about the land-use distribution is given in Figure 2. Figures 3 and 4 show the ownership structure and the distribution of forest by site type classes. 52 % of all forests belongs to the state, 44 % – private, 4 % – other. Conifers cover 60,5 % of the total forest area. Prevalent species are Scots pine – 40 %, birch – 28 %, and Norway spruce – 20 %. The age structure is predominantly composed by young and middle-aged stands – 63 %.
The Fire prevention system in Latvia
In Latvia the responsibility for forest fire protection is, by low, arraigned to the State Forest Service under the Ministry of Agriculture (SFS). It sets the procedure for fire suppression activities, the organizational set-up and fire safety regulations in the state-owned forests all in coordination with the Fire Control and Rescue Service of the Ministry of Interior. The forest fire control in Latvia is effected by 35 Regional Forest Districts with 262 subordinated Forest Districts. Each Forest District draws up a fire protection plan. The fire protection plans of the Regional Forest Districts are based on these district plans. These plans are continuously reviewed and updated, and they are approved by the local government, exercising control over their implementation. The plan comprises the mobilization of personnel, equipment, and communication. It also provides the mechanisms for the involvement of external assistance in case of an emergency situation.
Other state authorities and fire control and suppression units on the community level get involved in the SFS’s set-up as external assistance following the cabinet of Minister’s regulations (Fig.7).
At the same time the Law on Forest Management and Utilization declares that the prevention and guarding of forest fires is the duty of the forest owners and forest utilizers; they must fulfil this duty in compliance with the Forest Fire Safety Regulations. The Fire Fighting service within the State Forest Service is organized in a way which allows to locate and extinguish the forest fires as fast as possible. This service has no heavy equipment (bulldozers, excavators, etc.). So in the case of bigger forest fires when the area of the reaches 5-10 ha other state institutions are involved in fire fighting.
Each Forest District is also responsible for the prevention of forest fires in the area under its supervision: maintenance of bare earth firelines, putting up fire control signs, patrolling, public relations etc.
Forest fire suppression activities are directly supervised by the respective state forest officers – Head Forester of the Regional Forest District or Forester of the Forest District. These officials have undergone a course of instruction and training in forest fire control at the educational establishment they have graduated from (e.g. Forest Faculty of the Latvian Agricultural University).
There is a fire-fighting station at each Forest District (Fig.6). There are heated garage facilities for one or several fire truck-mounted pumper units, operators quarters with radio communications rooms for storing equipment and implements. Each truck has a crew of 3 to 4 men, it is equipped with one or more motor pumps with water capacity 1000 l/min and having attached, jet pipes, also hand tools (buckets, axes, power saws, shovels, etc.).
The crew undergoes training each year before the fire-sensitive season starts. Forest fires are normally detected from fixed lookout towers (Fig.6). There are 200 lookout towers in the country. Most of the forest fires are detected from these towers by informing the respective forest district of the coordinates of fire location. The cases of fire detected in patrolling, from the air or by local people are less frequent. This system allows to start fire fighting operations no later than in a half an hour’s time after the detection.
For fire reporting and alarm systems use is made of telephone, radio communications available at every Forest District. They have also pumper units on trucks, other vehicles are used as well. Fire reporting and alarm is as follows: lookout tower – forest district office – fire fighting station.
Figure 1 – 3 are included in the printed version of this article and will be added later.
Fig.1 and 2. Percentages of forest cover (upper) and land use (lower) in Latvia.
Fig.3. Distribution of forest ownership (x 1000 ha)
Fig.4. Distribution of forest by site types (%)
Fig.5. Number of Forest Fires and Burned Area
Fig.6. Dislocation on the territory of Latvia
Fig.7. State institutions involved in forest fire control
To predict with greater accuracy the development of the forest fire, its speed and direction, the SFS receiver on a daily basis weather forecasts with an evaluation of forest fire danger, wind direction and speed, the temperature for the current day and the period to come.
Each case of forest fire where the area affected exceeds 0.001 ha is recorded by drawing up a statement. The data are summarized by the SFS annually as of 1 November, when the fire-sensitive season is oven.
The cases of forest fires where the area affected exceeds 10 ha are investigated by the officials of the SFS. Latvian forest fires statistics – number of fires and burned area is given in Figure 5.
From: Mr. Arnis Gertners Director, Forest Protection Address: State Forest Service Janvara Str., 15 LV – 1932 RIGA LATVIA