Introduction: Fire environment, fire regimes, and the ecological role of fire
In Thailand, 25.28% of total land area which are equivalent to 12.97 million hectares are covered by forests. The Deciduous forests share 53.46% of total forested areas, while the rest are 46.54% of evergreen forests. Fires have long been a human-caused component in various forest ecosystems. They occur annually during the dry season from December to May with the peak period in February and March. In normal year, the most common surface fires mainly take place in Dry Dipterocarp forests and in Mixed Deciduous forests. During extended drought related to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event, fires spread, to a certain extent, in to Dry Evergreen, Hill evergreen or event in some parts of the Tropical Rain forest. In certain extreme dry sites it is common that forests burn twice per fire season. Although other types of fire are not typical to the forest of Thailand, in the recent El Niño episode of 1997-1998, a notable number of crown fire took place in Pine (Pinus spp.) plantations. Peat-swamp forests desiccated extremely and a number of ground fires occurred.
Fire has long been playing a significant role in most of our forest ecosystems, and the impacts caused by fire are very significant. However, the degree of damage caused by fire depends on the type of fire as well as the type of forest burnt. The deciduous forests are prone to fire and have long been subjected to annual burn by surface fire. Therefore these forests are well-adapted to fire and are fire-resistant. Surface fire is usually not lethal to mature tree. However, too frequent burn impedes and retards the natural regeneration, and alters the forest structure. Repeatedly burned forests will gradually deteriorate, change into more arid community and eventually into grassland dominated by Imperata cylindrica.
In evergreen forests fires cause abrupt and very severe damages. Fires kill more that 50% of mature trees, and completely destroy all sapling and undergrowth. In addition, fires drastically increase soil erosion as well as surface runoff. Fires also destroy food and habitat of wildlife, hence jeopardize the functioning of the whole forest ecosystem.
Summary of major wildfire impacts during the 1990s
The most severe fires took place in 1998 when the country was hit by the last El Niño. During that time, A numbers of large fires broke out in various parts of the country. The major fires which should be mentioned include:
Doi Intanon Fire This fire took place at Doi Intanon National Park in Chiangmai Province, Northern Thailand in mid-March. The fire which lasted for five days consumed 480 ha. of Dry Forest as well as Hill Evergreen Forest in the sensitive watershed area. About 20% of mature trees were killed by the fire. Damages caused to the watershed area were far beyond the assessment capabilities.
Phu Kadong Fire This fire took place at Phu Kadong National Park in Leoi Province, Northeastern Thailand in early March. 1,920 ha. of Pine Forest as well as Hill Evergreen Forest were severely burnt. Impacts caused by this fire were tremendous due to the fact that the burnt site is not only watershed area but also one of most famous tourist spots of the country.
Kao Yai Fire This fire took place at Kao Yai National Park in Nakornrachasima Province, Northeastern Thailand in late March. This fire lasted for seven days and burnt down 1,440 ha. of Dry Evergreen Forest. Aside from killing 30% of mature trees, the fire caused high mortality of wild animals, mainly wild chickens and their eggs, snakes as well as others small reptiles.
Pru Todang Fire This fire took place at Pru Todang Swamp forest which is the country only sound Peat-Swamp Forest. This peat fire lasted for nearly two months from late April to late June. Fire destroyed 1,280 ha. of invaluable Peat-Swamp Forest. About 80-90% of mature trees were killed, along with all undergrowth. The affected area was nearly denuded after this fire. Smoke emitted from this fire covered the sky over Naratiwat Province in southern Thailand for almost two months. Hundreds of patients mainly children and elderly were treated in hospitals for their respiratory problem. A number of firefighters including the correspondent who command the fire suppression operation were also treated due to the same sickness.
Forest fire database
Table 1. Wildfire statistics of fire numbers, area burned and fire causes for the period of 1985-2000. Source: Forest Fire Control Office, Royal Forest Department of Thailand
Total No. of Fires on Forest Lands
Area of Forest Burned(ha)
Operational fire management system and organization
There is a single organization undertaking all forest fire control activities in Thailand, called the Forest Fire Control Office which is under the Royal Forest Department (Fig.1). This office is composed of
Forest Fire Control Centers (FFCC)
92 Forest Fire Control Stations (FFCS)
Forest Fire Control Development Camps (FFDC)
Figure 1. The organizational structure of the Forest Fire Control Office, Royal Forest Department, Thailand
Responsibilities at different levels of the forest fire control organization
Forest Fire Control Planning Division
Planning and budgeting
Supervise, coordinate, and evaluate fire control centers and stations nationwide
Forest Fire Control Development Division
Develop fire prevention materials, prevention campaign strategies, fire suppression equipment as well as techniques and tactics in fighting fire
Supervise, coordinate, and evaluate fire control centers and stations nationwide
Train fire control personnel
Train, maintain and command the Fire Fighting Special Task Force (Fire Tiger Unit).
Research and study
Coordinate with concerned organizations locally and internationally
Forest Fire Control Logistics Division
Procure and mobilize all human and technical resources to support fire suppression operations
Logistics, first aids and rescue during large fire suppression operations
Forest Fire Control Centers (FFCF)
Supervise fire control stations under its responsibility
Support the operation of its fire control station
Coordinate with all agencies concerned
Forest Fire Control Stations (FFCS)
The FFCS is the executing unit of Forest Fire Control Office. Each station has subordinate units called Forest Fire Suppression Mobile Team. The number of Forest Fire Suppression Mobile Teams of each Fire Station varies depending on the amount of responsible area of each Station. It carries out two main tasks which include:
Forest fire prevention campaign. This campaign is carried out throughout the year, and comprises these following activities :
Mobile campaign unit (direct contact)
Campaign via mass media
Billboard and printed materials
Forest fire suppression. This task is carried out by the Forest Fire Suppression Mobile Teams. There are 272 teams nationwide. Each team is composed of 15 fire crew and generally responsible for suppression operation within 10,000 hectares of forest. Due to budget limitation, only 4.68 million hectares or equivalent to 35.7 % of total forest land are placed under fire suppression program. The suppression activities include :
Training of fire crew as well as fire volunteer brigades
Fuel management (fire break, control burning etc.)
Fire detection and report
Forest Fire Control Development Camp
It is the executing unit of Forest Fire Control Development Division. It carries out all kinds of development task, including:
Develop and produce fire prevention campaign materials
Develop and produce fire suppression equipment
Train fire crew as well as fire prevention campaign personnel
Train and operate the Fire Fighting Special Task Force (Fire Tiger Unit)
Conduct research and study
Responsibilities at the different levels of government
Central level (national)
The National Forest Fire Management Committee is appointed by the prime minister and is responsible for fire management policy at the national level.
The Provincial Forest Fire Management Committee is appointed by the National Forest Fire Management Committee and implements the fire management policy at the provincial level. There are committees in each of the 63 provinces where forests still exist. The local administrations have a mandate to protect the forest resources in their respective areas, including the protection of forest against fire.
Voluntary firefighters / brigades
The fire problem will not be solved without full cooperation with local people. The Royal Forest Department has devoted all its efforts to obtain people’s participation in fire management. Approximately 10,000 fire volunteers have trained annually. Unfortunately, without financial incentive, the concept of fire volunteer does not work well in this country.
Figure 1. Thailands Royal Forest Department is giving highest priority to efficient public information and education on forest fire problems at local and global levels. Photo: GFMC.
Figure 2. The threat of habitats for local animal species is one of the major topics addressed by national fire awareness campaigns. Source: Royal Forest Department.
Main forest fire research issues
A few fire research program has been conducted since 1980. The main research are on fire behavior, fuel characteristics and attitude of people toward fire problem. However, since 1999, a national Forest Fire Research Centre was established and a Master Plan for Forest Fire Research was formulated. It includes research on fire impacts, fire prevention, fire suppression, and the use of fire.
Use of prescribed fire to achieve management objectives
Early burning has long been practiced in all areas under fire control programs as a mean to prevent forest fire and to reduce the hazard of fire. However, the practice are mainly in small scale due to the inadequacy of know-how as well as experience in this field.
Other vegetation management (grasslands, bushlands)
Prescribed fire has been used in some very specific areas in order to maintain grassland for wildlife management purposes.
Agricultural maintenance burning
Open burn in farmlands to eliminate residue after harvesting still the common practices of all local people throughout the country.
“Let burn” (or integration) of natural (lightning) and human-caused wildfires
100% of the forest fires are caused by humans. There is no “let burn” policy in place.
Sustainable land-use practices employed in the country to reduce wildfire hazards
As of the moment, there is no dedicated program underway to involve land-use practices for wildfire hazard reduction.
Public policies concerning fire
Policies in place
The National Forest Policy: The latest National Forest Policy No.18 (1985) states that a substantial plan for tackling the deforestation problem (e.g., shifting cultivation, forest fire) must be determined. Suppression, as well as law enforcement measures, must be clearly set.
The Royal Forest Department Policy: The Royal Forest Department policy states toward forest fire control in practical aspect as “to minimize damages caused by forest fire by using all means either prevention or suppression strategy.”
The needs of fire management
The management of forest fires in Thailand has been intensively carried out for almost two decades. Considerable amounts of knowledge and experiences have been obtained during this long period. To a satisfactory level, Thailand has developed her own unique fire management system which is proved to be fit to the local situation. However, some aspects of management and especially the fire research arena is still insufficiently developed. In this regard assistance from the fire science community is badly needed.
IFFN/GFMC contribution submitted by:
Director, Forest Fire Control Development Division, Forest Fire Control Office, Royal Forest Department
61 Paholyothin Road, Jatujak, Bangkok 10900