The Mongolian People’s Republic continues to be faced with wildfire problems that over the years have destroyed lives, homes, livestock, improvements, and valuable natural resources. During the spring of 1990 a forest fire, burning in the Bulgan and Selenge Districts of Northcentral Mongolia, burned an estimated 600,000 hectares. This same spring another individual fire burning in the steppe (grassland) of Northeastern Mongolia (Dornod District) destroyed homes, animal shelters, 300 tons of hay, and over 3,000 head of livestock before being controlled at more than 600,000 hectares.
Records indicate that the average annual forest area burned for the 22 year period (1963-1985) was 145,000 hectares. More recent statistics for the four year period 1986-1989 (see table below) show an average of 43,000 hectares of forest land burned – well below the 23 year average. Steppe fire losses for the same 4-year period totalled more than 5.6 million hectares for an annual average of more than 1.4 million hectares.
The nucleus of the Mongolian fire control organizations is a cadre of 150 smokejumpers located at six field sites in Northcentral and Northeastern part of the country, and at the headquarters in Ulaan Baatar, capitol city of Mongolia. The smokejumper unit was established in 1969 and received much of their early training from the Soviets who have a long history of utilizing aerial operations in wildland fire fighting. The Mongolian fire control organization is currently doing most of their own training and recently received a smokejumper simulator through FAO that will be used in refresher training for experienced personal and for introductory training for new recruits.
Operating on the premise that a rapid initial attack is the best means of keeping fires small the smokejumpers utilize the AN2 single engine bi-plane and the MI8 helicopter to transport the jumpers to the fires and for flying fire detection patrol….many of which have a squad of jumpers on board so fires can be attacked as quickly as possible.
Strong winds that may continue for several days are common during the spring fire season. When fires start and burn under these conditions, the planes are frequently grounded, smokejumping is too hazardous, and fires are difficult to control. Conventional fire fighting methods are mostly unsuccessful in these situations and considerable effort is expended toward protecting life and property ahead of the fire. Future considerations are being directed toward preparing fuel breaks, especially in the grassland areas, so that backfiring during major fire incidence will have some opportunity for success.
From: John H. Dieterich Address: 630 E. Wesleyan Dr. USA – TEMPE, Arizona 85282