In 1996 the continuing economic crisis in Russia had destructive impacts on the efficiency of forest fire protection management. Seriously affected were ground and aerial forest fire protection operations. As a consequence of lacking budgets flights for fire detection and aerial fire suppression were performed irregularly. As a result of this, out of the 28,000 fires which occurred during the 1996 fire season (twice more than in previous years), 1,166 fires or 4% have developed into very large fires.
The forest fires during the 1996 fire season covered a total of about 1.8 million hectares, out of which 1.6 million hectares or 89% were burnt by large fires (fires > 200 ha) – this is a record figure for the past 60 years. It has become rather frequent that, due to the lack of necessary resources, the suppression of large forest fires was stopped, and not included in the records (Yakutiya, Irkutsk region etc.).
Fig.1. Regions of large fire occurrences in the Russian Federation during the 1996 fire season.
The most complicated and unfavourable fire situation which took place during the last fire season was in the Eastern part of the Russian Federation: Krasnoyarsk, Baikal, Far East regions and Yakutiya. This was a consequence of lowering the level of forest fire protection (cutting down the number of fire-fighting crews, reduction of aircraft flying time, etc.). During the last five years aircraft flying time was reduced by an average of two times consisting of about 40,000 hours in 1996, while the necessary time (according to proven norms) should be 150,000 hours.
The average percent for fire detection by aviation was about 41%, two times less than it had been in the 1980s. The number of smoke jumper and helirappeller crews was reduced nearly by two times: only about 4,000 aerial fire suppression specialists are now employed as compared with 8,000 people in the early 1990s. Aerial fire suppression operations involving transport of smoke jumper and helirappeller teams decreased sharply: while in 1991 2,598 aerial fire fighters were transported in 98 operations, only 28 transport operations ferrying 745 firefighters were performed in 1996.
Fig.2. Number of forest fires in the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation in the period 1987-1996
Fig.3. Expenditures of aerial fire protection (kopeks/ha) at price level of 1990
Fig.4 and 5. Russian helirappeller fire fighters returning fromcombating forest fires near Boguchani, August 1996. Photo: J.G.Goldammer
At the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s the sharing of costs for aerial forest fire protection were continually increased. In recent years, however, the income by cost-sharing was considerably reduced.
Despite the complicated economic situation Avialesookhrana has managed to provide funding for the development, tests and applications of new technical means, primarily for initial attack by aircraft.
During the last fire season 20 additional water-dropping systems for the AN-2 biplane were produced. A new helibucket with a capacity of 5 m3 (same capacity as the Canadian Bambi bucket) has been designed and tested. It was decided that 20 units of this system be produced by the 1997 fire season.
There are some achievements in making use of the information, received from satellites for the estimation of a forest fire danger (Fig.6).
Manifold international contacts continued in 1996. The Federal Forest Service of Russia hosted the UN FAO/ECE Seminar “Forest, Fire and Global Change” which was held in Shushenskoe, Krasnoyarsk region, August 1996 (see IFFN No.15, pp.40-47). A large number of representatives from the Russian Forest Service and scientists from the Academy of Sciences participated and contributed to the seminar. “Avialesookhrana” is also continuing its activity in studies of advanced fire management in other countries. Two Russian specialists have been working during summer 1996 in the Western part of the U.S.A. as members of a “hotshot crew”. The delegations of the forest Khabarovsk region has got acquainted with forest fire management management in Alaska (USA). German, Canadian, and US American scientists, as well as researchers from other countries, are engaged in fire research programmes in the Krasnoyarsk region as a proving ground. There is also an active exchange going on of delegations of forest fire protection personnel between Russian and China.
In 1995 the FAO/ECE Team of Specialists on Forest Fire suggested the necessity of creating an international forest fire-fighting center to serve complicated forest fire situations around the world. In my opinion this idea is worth attention and discussion. However, thus far we have not yet seen any comments, assessments and practical suggestions on this idea in the pages of IFFN. Perhaps it would be timely to convene an international forum to discuss the possibility of the actual realization of this idea in detail.
From: Eduard P. Davidenko Address: Avialesookhrana National Aerial Forest Fire Protection Center Gorkogo St. 20 RUS – 141200 Pushkino, Moscow Region