Russia: Forest Fire Problems in 1999 in the Russian Federation (January 2000)

Forest Fire Problems in 1999 inthe Russian Federation

(IFFN No. 22 – April 2000, p. 63-66)

Forest fire control on 1.111 billion ha of the Forest Fund under management of the Federal Forest Service of the Russian Federation is provided by the following ways:

  • Ground-based fire protection service in collaboration with making use of aerial patrolling – 10.5 %
  • Ground-based fire protection service – 16.4 %
  • Aerial fire protection service through Avialesookhrana – 47.2 %
  • Unprotected forest and other land – 25.9 %

The forest fire season of 1999 in Russian Federation broke a record by number of forest fires – over 31,000. According to the official statistics forest fires burnt 960,000 ha including 680,000 ha forest area. The majority of forest fires burned as surface fires: Crown fires affected on 65,000 ha. A total of 742 fires exceeded 200 ha and were included in the category of large fires. The total damage from forest fires in 1999 accounted for 1.8 billion rubles (about $US 70 million). Fires destroyed 21.5 million m³ of standing forest and 81,000 ha of young forest. The main causes of forest fires in 1999 (on average in Russia ):

  • Local population – 69 %
  • Lightning – 13 %
  • Agricultural burning – 4 %
  • Forest logging – 1%
  • Unknown causes – 13 %

The most severe fires were recorded in Altai, Khabarovsk, Krasnoyarsk areas, Irkutsk, Chita and Navosibirsk regions, Karelia and Buryatia republics as well as in the Central European regions Moscow, Leningrad, Vologda, Novgorod and Tver.

Over 49 % forest fires were detected and over 6,000 fires suppressed with the help of the aerial forest fire control service. Rapid response teams suppressed 39.2 % of all fires on the first day of fire start.

In comparison with 1980 the number of smokejumpers and helirappelers was considerably reduced, but in the course of the last two years that number was stabilized and is keeping now on the level of 3,900 firefighters. During the 1999 fire season this staff suppressed 2,551 fires covering 41,100 ha without involving additional resources. The positive role in that played active maneuvering with the crews of 933 specialists (smokejumpers and helirappelers) who were moved from one region to another one for rendering support in fire fighting.

During the last season activity of aviation was rather improved. At present time the park of Avialesookhrana’s own aviation includes 93 aircraft (22 helicopters, 3 transport planes, 3 amphibian planes and 61 AN-2 – the work horses of the Russian fire protection air wing). While the total flight time of aviation spent on forest protection equalled 37,400 hours, over 9,000 hours (24%) were flown by Avialesookhrana’s aircraft. The availability of own aviation notably increased operational efficiency, provided support for decisions and speeded fast response to fires because critical time was saved for numerous bureaucratic procedures connected with leasing planes and helicopters.

The government of the Russian Federation approved the Federal Programme Forest Fire Protection for 1999 to 2005. The aim of this programme is to increase effectiveness of forest fire protection. The programme maps out in the first place to provide financing for :

  • operative detection and suppression of fires;

  • material and technical supply of forest fire fighting;

  • forest fire prevention activities; and

  • development of an integrated system of forest fire monitoring.

For raising the effectiveness of management decisions on federal and regional levels it is foreseen to create an automatized information management system and technical facilities as well as means of information support for forest fire protection. More attention is paid to reception and use of satellite information for estimation and forecast of fire danger and for forest fire monitoring. It is also foreseen to provide financing from the state budget for development and purchases of new aviation technologies. The development of new technologies for airborne fire suppression will receive highest priority. First of all these are new amphibian planes BE 200P, which now are undergoing tests and be fully operational within the next 2-3 years. Modernized water-dropping systems with the use of elastic suspension for helicopters (helibuckets) of different carrying capacity will be developed.

The specific features of new and improved additives for fire-fighting (retardants) will be micro-volumetrically additions of thickeners (0.1-0.3% volume) on a polymeric base, as well as moisteners (wetting agents) and foams to be injected in tanks of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Accordance to calculations by Russian scientists the introduction of the above-mentioned innovations will increase the effectiveness of forest fire suppression more than twice.

During last years in forestry of Russia more and more attention is paid to preventive measures against forest fires. Russian scientists have developed recommendations for controlled preventive burning (prescribed burning) in forests of Siberia. Today such burning operations are conducted on several hundreds of thousands hectars in the Taiga forests of Siberia and the Far East. Russian scientists and fire managers are adopting the experience of their colleagues from the United States who have been engaged in that problem for longer time.

I would like to come back to my earlier proposal published in IFFN No. 16 (January 1997) where I discussed the necessity for the creation of international forest fire centers under the auspices of the United Nations. Our present life will force us adopt such a decision by all means. Forest fires are on the offensive. The mankind can and have to foresee this threat and react accordingly. One hundred of well trained specialists in firefighting are able to render considerable real help in the most complicated situations at any point of our globe. In Russia it is quite possible to form 1-2 crews of well trained smokejumpers and helirappelers consisting of 20 persons who are capable in mastering all methods of fire-fighting.

It seems that we are on the right way now. At the next meeting of the UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire in June 2000 we will also host a planning meeting of the United Nations International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG). The regional INSARAG Europe-Africa group decided in December 1999 to create an international INSARAG Wildland Fire Response Group. Together with an international Russian-German aircraft conversion consortium we may soon be able to realize the establishment of an international fire brigade. While this idea has found a pretty enthusiastic consensus within a small group of international fire advisors, we would greatly appreciate to receive comments from other fire specialists throughout the world. So, please do not hesitate to communicate with me and the coordinating body of the UN Fire Team and the INSARAG Wildland Fire Group (through the Global Fire Monitoring Center).


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Fig.1. Map of large forest fires (>200 ha) in the territory of the Russian Federation during the fire season of 1999.

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Fig.2. Number of forest fires burning in the Russian Federation during the period 1989-1999.

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Fig.3. Flight hours and fires detected by aircraft in the Russian Federation between 1994 and 1999. The green bars show the flight hours by aircraft belonging to the Aerial Fire Protection Service Avialesookhrana, Federal Forest Service of Russia.


Dr. Eduard P. Davidenko
National Aerial Forest Fire Center of Russia
Gorcogo St. 20
141200 Pushkino, Moscow Region

Fax: ++7-096-532-9220

Country Notes
IFFN No. 22

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