National guidelines on Forest Fire Management in Namibia

National Guidelines on Forest Fire Management in Namibia
Final Draft 31 March/2001

(IFFN No. 25 – July 2001)


Principles concerning Forest Fire Management Plans

Forest Fire Management, as a management activity should be carried out based on a proper planning. A forest fire management plan is an integral part of a forest management plan, but not only that, it should also form a part of any land use plan for a certain area. This plan is developed at national, provincial district and field level e.g. for and area with thatch harvesting. Fire management planning is a continuing process and the plan needs to be renewed and updated periodically.


  1. The plan should provide sufficient resources (manpower, facilities, infrastructure and funding) for the development of a comprehensive fire management plan at each of the various governmental levels (national, provincial/regional and district levels).

  2. The plan should identify all factors affecting forest fire management including:

    • Forest fire history
    • National, regional and district plans
    • Type of ecosystem (related to fuel type) including peat lands, low flood plains, hills and mountain forest, Mopane forest, savanna forest.
    • Seasonal variations in climate and weather conditions
    • Socio-economic and cultural variations in local communities
    • Government and other stakeholder groups e.g. CACA, grass cutting groups
    • Transboundary fire management agreements and their level of accomplishment
  3. The plan should integrate the forest and land fire management plans into development plans which should be included in the long and medium term planning of the forestry sector.

  4. The plan should include provisions to prepare annual forest fire management plans that include:

    • Fire management objectives
    •   Detailed management programs, scheduling source of funding and the amounts required

2.1 Fire Management Options

The Principle of Approach and Application of Forest Fire Management Options

There are several approaches in forest fire management that can be applied in any one region or local area. These approaches are based on the specific situations and conditions found in these respective areas. One management approach is an Integrated Forest Fire Management (IFFM) System whereby all aspects of prevention and suppression are considered together. This approach is the correct option for both the commercial as well as for the communal areas of Namibia considering the socio-cultural, biological and economic realities in these areas.
The problem is related to available local resources, technical aptitudes of people in local communities, availability of manpower (for suppression) and the most common agricultural practices which they apply in their lands. In addition, the environmental awareness among traditional leaders directly reflect the commitment of the local people in participating in forest fire management activities.
Like wise, the environmental awareness among the Farmers Associations play the same role in commercial areas of the country. 
There is also a need to compile a legislation on veld fires which will cover IFFM activities in commercial farm areas including resettlement areas. This obligations, which are not specifically covered in the new Forest Bill, will i.e. compel all land owners to report all fires.


  • To develop an integrated forest fire management system to protect forest from fire by considering not only the technical fire management aspects but also the decentralization which brings in the prevailing socio-economic and cultural aspects of local communities.

  • To develop a forest fire management system appropriate for commercial farms.

  • To train trainers for IFFM activities in commercial farming communities.

  •   Appropriate national or sub-national education agencies should incorporate peatland curricula in educational programs particularly in areas where peatlands form a significant component of the landscape under both forested and non-forested ecosystems. Such curricula should feature the ecological and cultural functions and values of peatlands as well as their importance to people including traditional knowledge based on input from local communities, women and local healers.

  • Review the present framework of national policies, laws and regulations to ensure that effective peatland wise use and management are practiced; and enhance such measures where there is national consensus that peatlands are at significant risk due to anthropogenic activities.

  • Where there is a national consensus that an incomplete network of protected peatland sites is present, expand peatland reserves, parks or conservancies.

  • Promote the wise use and management of peatland functions and values through the implementation of national land use planning through the implementation of international conventions and treaties.

2.2 Fire Prevention

Principles surrounding a Fire Prevention Plan

Fire prevention is the key to overcome forest fire problems which are caused by anthropogenic or human induced fires. Fires induced by lightning are rare in northern and north-eastern Namibia where 99% of all fires are human in origin. It is estimated that fires in the central and western parts of Namibia 60% of fires are caused by nature and 40% by human activities. Thus, the prevention should play a key role when reducing human induced fires. Local people and the general public should be made aware of the impact of wildfires (uncontrolled fires) have on the environment and particularly on the trees in the forests. The work to educate local people (including all school children) takes 3-5 years to achieve.
Long term experience from fire education in Asia shows, that although the new knowledge is firmly implanted in peoples minds, the changes in traditional behaviour still takes a few more years to materialize.
In the Namibian context, the so called cutline or fuel break system also belongs to the category of fire prevention activities.

Suggested outline for a fire prevention plan:

Development of a basic plan:

  •  Fire occurrence map with numbers and location of fires
  •   Fire statistics showing dates and times of fires, size of fire etc.
  •   Fire risk map showing locations where new or untrained or drunkard villages are situated
  • Fire risk map showing locations where fires cross national boundaries
  •   Thematic maps (hydrology, roads, Khutas, police stations, Defence Force outposts)

Determine prevention objectives:

  • Lead agency: The Directorate of Forestry (D.o.F.)
  • Forest Fire Campaign directed towards the entire population.
  • Special target groups; all schools, 50 % of all communities, 100 % of all border crossings to Zambia, Botswana, all Government offices, 30 NGOs.

Develop prevention activities plan, needed infrastructure, scheduling and a fire prevention fund:

  • Encourage and motivate all forestry officials, traditional authorities, and other forest users to participate in prevention activities
  • Review the dissemination and information channels and material periodically
  • Fire extension work among the local communities and other rural extensionists
  • Education and training
  • Prevention engineering (cutlines, prescribed burning, silvicultural treatment e.g. pruning)
  • Develop the legal status of communities to prevent fires in their area

Develop a monitoring and evaluation plan:

  •  Survey among stakeholders, media coverage, satellite imageries

Develop a funding plan and its sources:

  • Government agencies
  • Regional authorities
  • NGOs,
  • Transboundary (SADC)
  • International funding (e.g. research)
  • Special national fund (e.g. by tourism levy)

Implementation of Forest Fire Prevention:

According to the Government Policy on Combating of Bushfires, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) is by a Cabinet decision given the responsibility of fire prevention. In reality the veld- and forest fire prevention work will primarily be the responsibility of the Directorate of Forestry. The same Ordinance also outlines the Powers of Regional Councils and Powers and duties of Local Authorities.

The principles of successful fire prevention is determined by:

  • Appropriate selection of activities and programs for each target group
  • Appropriate selection and implementation of preventive techniques and their scheduling
  • Adequate facilities, infrastructure and funding
  • Adequate number and quality of human resources as executors of the prevention program
  • Support from political and traditional leaders

A national fire danger rating system needs to be developed and in place to be able to reach an effective fire prevention. Likewise the land tenure system needs to be clear so as to determine who is fire-responsible for each geographic area.
The Government (Agriculture, Veterinary, NamRail) should investigate into the use herbicides for clearing fuel breaks along fences, railroads, national roads and national borders. Consideration should be given to the subsidizing of herbicides to these stakeholders.
The losses on fencing caused by fires are e.g. 2500$/km for an ordinary 5-strand fence. Game fences are 3-4 times more expensive to replace.


To develop an operational guideline for forest fire prevention which takes into consideration the; 

5W + 1H = Why, What, Who, Where, When and How

To implement the education, training, information/dissemination and other extension activities by:

  • Personal contacts
  • Interview/discussions with target groups; Government agencies, traditional leaders, farmers, fishermen, cattle raisers, women’s groups, conservation cadres, environmentalists, tourists, hunters, honey hunters, arsonists, school children, teachers, handicraft makers etc.
  • By developing and establishing a National Fire Logo
  • Use of printed and electronic media
  • By using Theatre Drama Play and national radio to rely fire message to illiterate rural people
  • By targeting primary and secondary schools and other training institutions
  • By involving local artists in the production of educational materials, text writing, song writing, video production
  • By participating in literary programs for adult learners the majority (68%) of whom are women
  • By participating in national/local exhibitions, cultural festivals, parades, school competitions
  • By participating in National Arbor Day or Environmental Day, Food Day
  • By organizing national Fire Campaign Radio/TV with National Fire Logo (ostrich) displayed
  • By producing ostrich; badges, key rings etc
  • By producing Fire Stories or Fire Cartoons for mass distribution in English and local languages
  • By producing fire billboards in strategic areas in English as well as in local languages

Technical actions and regulatory measures:

  • Patrol and control/guard fire risk areas (e.g. like the border areas with Botswana and Zambia)
  • Fuel treatment (fuel modification, e.g. slashing for reduced flame height), fuel isolation, fuel reduction by grazing or by prescribed burning
  • Construction and maintenance fire breaks, fuel breaks, grazing corridors and or silvicultural treatment areas
  • General weather expectancy for fire seasons (e.g., El-Niño-Southern Oscillation)
  • Socialize and enforce laws, by-laws and customary law

Implement formal and informal education and training:

Involve local communities, grass cutting groups, game lodges, rural schools in fire prevention activities including cutline (fuel break) construction, prescribed burning whether done jointly with the Directorate of Forestry (D.o.F.) or by themselves.

2.3 Role of both Local and Commercial Farming Communities

Principles of Community Involvement

An effective and efficient forest fire prevention and suppression strategy is based upon an understanding socio-economic, cultural and economic realities in the use of fire and burning among the local population. Any forest fire prevention or suppression programs rely on good relationship between the Government as law enforcer and both local communities and commercial farming communities as forest users. This joint partnership for the sustainable use of the forests is called community based forest fire management in local communities. In commercial areas the partnership is based on the establishment of a network of Forest Protection Units or Forest Protection Associations.
Forest managers (also in community forests) are required to implement forest fire prevention activities in their respective areas as well as to actively participate in extinguishing any wild fires burning in their areas.


  1. Encourage the establishment of new voluntary community fire management units and strengthen those groups already trained as fire control units
  2. Enhance community participation in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all integrated forest fire control activities through the development of incentive systems
  3. Establish a systematic and continuous community based fire control program in northern Namibia
  4. Encourage the creation of volunteer forest fire prevention groups through public education and national fire campaigning

2.4 Fire Suppression

Principles of Pre-Suppression

Effective and efficient forest fire suppression (fire fighting) can be carried out only when appropriate preparations are made prior to the required suppression activity. Pre-suppression includes preparation, staffing, organizing, equipping, funding and training of all people planned to do the suppression work. Cooperative agreements between stakeholders need to be mutually developed. Standard suppression procedures need to be established, as do detection and early warning systems. Procurement and maintenance of equipment, advance training of qualified mechanics, must also be arranged.


A) Preparation

  • Prepare data and information needed in suppression operations including topographic maps, risk area maps, accessibility (road) map, support location map, hydrologic map, annual statistical data on forest and land fire, list of available suppression resources including trained villagers.
  • Make an inventory of available equipment, infrastructure and manpower to be needed in an area to ensure the readiness for mobilization.
  • Study and evaluate past suppression needs.
  •  Identify the fire hazard and fire risk level based on field observations (local activities, humidity, temperature, wind speed, fuel moisture).

B)  Develop and initiate cooperative support from other stakeholders

  • Consolidate policies and action among all organizations established at national, provincial/regional, district, community level through meeting called by the local Fire Chief or DFO.
  • Ensure readiness of elements in various organizations through exchange of data and information: Seasonal weather forecast, general weather pattern, risk and hazard areas (e.g. Chobe crossings) inventory of facilities, infrastructure and manpower, funding and software.
  • Ensure readiness of aid resources between and among related institutions. These include Home Affairs, NDF, Public Works Department, Social Works, Health Department, Public works Department, Agriculture and water Affairs, Prime Ministers Office/National Disaster Coordination Unit, Civil Aviation, Telecom etc. This includes a complete list of contact persons at each level in Forestry Districts.

C)  Strengthen Standard Procedures

  • Identify criteria to determine the caution (awareness) level and preparedness.
  • Strengthen procedures for all elements within the suppression operation; including procedures for size-up, mobilization of manpower and equipment, communication and command system, procedures for mobilization of stakeholder resources, research and investigation, personal safety, accident reporting etc.
  • Develop a structured fire command system for each size of fire disaster (small, medium, large).
  • Ensure the lead-agency role of D.o.F. in standard mobilization situations, need to build possible store rooms in field locations for keeping fire equipment. This would include the earmarking of transport equipment, marking of water points, electrical power sources, communications systems, food and water supplies.

D)  Equipment Preparation

  • Check and maintain that all detection and early warning equipment, local fire look-outs, satellite image receiving stations and Telecom, Weather Bureau facilities are functioning and staff available.
  • Check, maintain and test run the equipment at the suppression centres and sub-stations to ensure they function as required.
  • Check also that they may be easily loaded and dispatched to fire suppression areas.
  • Identify and ensure readiness of any needed stakeholder equipment intended for suppression and its present condition that it conforms with national safety regulations.
  • Build store rooms for fire suppression equipment and tools at sub-stations or Khutas, priority should be given to suppression tools.

E)  Early Detection and Warning

  • Develop, equip and check and ensure facilities for early detection and warning systems at national and district level are fully functioning. Included are such items as look-out points, weather station (rain gauge), thermometer, anemometer, (wind) hygrometer, (moisture/humidity), remote sensing facility (software, human resources), procedures for gathering information from surveillance, air reconnaissance, police patrols.
  • Define forest risk and fire hazard areas (e.g., with grass cover of more than 4000 kg/ha.
  • Increase law enforcement patrolling and inspect high risk fire areas (national borders, drunkard villages).
  • Define alert areas and disseminate information on these.
  • Post and maintain daily Fire Danger Index signs.

F)  Manpower Preparation (recruitment and training)

  • Identify human resources development needs for various suppression activities (home or overseas).
  • Recruit new staff for fire suppression units.
  • Organize forest fire suppression for manual and motorized methods for basic and advanced skills levels fire control units. Likewise training in prescribed burning. Conduct training in May-June prior to peak fire season.
  • Encourage the formation of skilled voluntary fire crews in local communities and equip them with tools and other gear.

G)  Funding Preparations

  • Prepare a fire suppression budget
  • Prepare requisition orders for budget allocations
  •   Evaluate the allocations spent

Principles of Forest Fire Suppression

By the Civil Defense Ordinance and a cabinet decision the Ministry of Regional, Local Government and Housing is responsible of fire suppression. Each Region needs to establish a Regional Emergency Committee (REC). This committee is chaired by the Governor. Each Constituency needs to establish a Constituency Emergency Committee (CEC). Under this umbrella Emergency Operational Units need to be established (E.O.U) These units are composed of people who have been trained by the Emergency Management Units (EMU). In the case of training in forest fire management it should be the responsibility of the Directorate of Forestry (MET/D.o.F.).
In order to be effective and efficient, the forest fire suppression activities must be initiated at an early stage (initial attack), implemented progressively, organized properly, with human safety as first priority, and the control of fire completed with mopping-up. Adequate early detection facilities, infrastructure and manpower must support fire suppression. Fire detection is an important factor and a key to successful early suppression activities.
When initial attack forces cannot control the fire, then further steps are taken to mobilize more resources (extended attack).
The Government (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Directorate of Communication) should declare a national radio frequency for emergency use only with all private radio stations. The old 68kHz can no longer be used.
The Ministry of Regional, local Government and Housing, being responsible for the entire national fire management as well as for local Fire Brigades, should be requested to budget and provide local Fire Brigades with radio communication so that they may contact established with Fire Protection Associations in case of emergency.
The duties of the NRSC of D.o.F. should be extended to accommodate a national fire detection centre in collaboration with the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) in Freiburg, Germany.


A) Fire Detection

In order to conduct initial attack, all fire detection potentials should be employed, including detection from fire look-outs, ground and air patrol, satellite imagery and use of information/reports from the general public and local communities.

 Assess needs to be taken to increase awareness of the part of the general public and local communities as far as their requirement for early detection and rapid reporting to responsible protection organization.

B) Implementation of Fire Suppression

Increase knowledge and skills levels of all parties involved in fire suppression, particularly the fire fighting team as to methods and tactics to apply in effective fire suppression. These methods and tactics include:

  • Analyze the fire situation (size up) and define initial attack method
  • Supervise all fire fighting crews (community units) based on above analysis
  • Carry out early control actions, rapid initial attack to contain and prevent fire from spreading
  • Suppression operations using appropriate methods and tactics: Direct, parallel or indirect attack depending on topography, fuel and weather conditions

If fire escapes initial escapes initial action and is expected to greatly increase in size or to develop into a national emergency, there is a need to promptly report it to a higher level following the chain of command. Thereby it is possible to mobilize additional suppression resources. This also requires on to make an Emergency Fire Suppression Plan which includes Government agencies, major stakeholders, traditional authorities and local communities. This plan should be based on clearly defined responsibilities among stakeholders to prevent duplication of efforts so as to optimize resource utilization. Considerations should also be taken to request appropriate international aid. Funding arrangements should be agreed upon prior to a declared emergency situation.

C) Logistics Preparations

Prepare sufficient logistics (plan for a network of supply and resource movements) in case of continued suppression operations. The logistics include back-up teams, equipment, water for any needs, food and first aid. There is also need to prepare facilities and infrastructure to mobilize these logistics on time and at a specified location.

D) Escape and Rescue Routes

Determine the action plan and route for self-escape when the situation becomes dangerous (e.g. change in wind direction). Every member involved in suppression operations needs to understand the conditions when and how to apply these emergency orders.  This also includes a rescue route from the fire location.

E) Mop-up and Patrolling

All team members involved in suppression operations must understand that they are required to stay at the fire location until the fire is completely extinguished
Examine and patrol burned areas and extinguish all existing burning materials

Principles of Post-Fire Evaluation

When the forest fire suppression activity is over, or when the annual fire season is over (and rainy season starts) an extended review of past suppression activities has to be carried out. These evaluation outputs are used for revision or improving the fire management plan for the next year.


  1. Develop forest fire statistics which include the number of fires, burned areas, fire locations, fire sources, vegetation and the fire damage.
  2. Evaluate the success and failures of fire suppression and analyze the results of this evaluation
  3. Estimate the economical, social and ecological damages and losses caused by the fire, both inside and outside forest areas
  4. Estimate the cost of fire control and compare it with the budget allocation
  5. Evaluate the overall fire management plan and its implementation
  6. Conduct fire investigation to determine the need for further law enforcement procedures or changes in forest, land tenure or other legislation.

2.5 Rehabilitation of Burned-Over Areas

Rehabilitation of burnt forest is not often discussed as a part of forest fire management simply because the planning and implementation of the rehabilitation is seldom carried out by the fire management organization. However, rehabilitation is a common and effective means to reduce fire hazard and to re-establish the functions of the burnt forest.


  1. Evaluate the feasibility of rehabilitating the bunt over forest area and identify appropriate rehabilitation efforts.
  2. Develop a rehabilitation plan for the burnt over area based on the existing condition of vegetation and the original function of the forest. Rehabilitation can be carried out by means of protecting the burnt area from repeated fires so as to ensure natural regeneration or by applying enrichment planting.

2.6 Tools, Equipment and Facilities for Fire Prevention and Suppression

Principles of the Preparation of a Requirement Plan

The success of forest fire prevention and suppression depends not only on the manpower and applied methods, but also on the provision of adequate equipment and facilities and qualified staff. The type and number of the provided equipment and facilities must be suitable for the local climatic and terrain conditions. Additionally it has to be tailor made to the socio-economic and cultural conditions in local communities. The use of advanced equipment also requires well trained people as well as an appropriate spare part supply and workshop facilities.
Under Namibian conditions, Windhoek excluded, qualified workshop technicians or necessary electronics are not available to make repairs to sophisticated equipment, not even to simple fuel injection used in most modern vehicles.


  1. Make a list of an ideal requirement of tools and equipment based on prevailing local conditions so as to ensure the best prevention and suppression effort. A suggested grouping of tools and equipment by various team activities:

    • Mobile fire detection team
    • Stationary fire detection/look out team
    • Hand tool team
    • Prescribed burning team
    •   Fire campaign team
    • Water pump team
    • Mechanical/heavy equipment team
    • Air attack team
    • Logistics, evacuation and medical team
    • Fire danger rating team
  2.  Conduct an inventory of tools, equipment and other support material (location) that already exist.

  3.  Develop a requisition plan (+ budget) for tools, supplies and equipment

Principles of Allocation and Utilization of Tools and Equipment

Fire tools and equipment allocated for prescribed burning and fire suppression should be used exclusively for that purpose. Use of tools and equipment for other purposes (like e.g. irrigation) is not allowed, particularly (vehicles) under fire alert situations. Exceptions may be permitted for use of facilities which due to their character can be used for other purposes without disturbances to forest fire control activities.

Use, maintenance and storage of all equipment will be according to standard procedures.


  1. Strengthen and develop standard procedures for use, maintenance and storage of forest fire equipment.
  2. Develop standard procedures for permitting use of fire equipment and facilities for other purposes.
  3. Develop information network on available fire equipment at inter-agency, inter-district and provincial/national levels.

Country Notes
IFFN No. 25

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