GFMC: BALTEX FIRE 2000 Conference Report (IFFN No. 24)

BALTEX FIRE 2000
(Baltic Exercise for Fire Information and Resources Exchange)

Conference Report

(IFFN No. 24 – April 2001, p. 2-11)


1. Preface
2. Rationale

2.1 Fire in the Central-Northern European Environment
2.2 The International Nexus

3. Conference Programme

3.1 Participants
3.2 Papers Presented
3.3 Working Groups
3.4 Demonstration Exercises

4. Conference Results Recommendations of BALTEX FIRE 2000

4.1 Group I: Forest Fire Risk Assessment; Detection and Monitoring of Forest Fires
4.2 Forest Fires and Environment
4.3 Transboundary Operational Cooperation in Fire Management, Training and Technical Development

5. Immediate Actions to be Taken in the Baltic Region
6. Related Activities
7. Acknowledgements


1. Preface

Between 5 and 9 June 2000 the Baltic Exercise for Fire Information and Resources Exchange (BALTEX FIRE 2000) was held in Kuopio, Finland. BALTEX FIRE 2000 is part of an initiative devoted to strengthen cooperation in forest fire management and transboundary cooperation in large fire disasters between all countries bordering the Baltic Sea. The conference and exercise was organised and hosted by the Finnish Ministry of Interior and the Emergency Services College in Kuopio. BALTEX FIRE 2000 was arranged and co-sponsored by the several national institutions (the Finnish Forest Research Institute; the Forest and Park Service; the University of Helsinki; the Meteorological Institute and the Technical Research Center [VTT] of Finland).

The common Baltic forest fire initiative has been initiated in the mid 1990s by the UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire which operates on behalf of the Joint UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Committee on Forest Technology, Management and Training and coordinates its work through the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC).

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2. Rationale

2.1 Fire in the Central-Northern European Environment

Forest fires in the region of the Baltic Basin are closely linked to modern human activities, e.g. industrialization, socio-economics (land-use change), military installations and activities (currently becoming less significant), problems arising at the forest/residential interface, and tourism. The wildfires severely threaten the valuable forest resources of the region. Some fire events cause secondary problems, such as fires in industrially polluted forests or in radioactively contaminated vegetation.

On the other hand, recognizing the role of historic natural and human-caused fires and other land-use tools in the formation of the cultural landscapes of the Baltic Basin, new concepts are arising to include fire as management tool in those landscapes, including nature conservation areas, which require periodic disturbances in order to maintain or restore biodiversity (e.g., heathlands, sub-climax forest formations).

The Baltic initiative includes all countries bordering the Baltic Sea and several observer countries. The Russian Federation is part of the Baltic Fire Initiative because it shares a long borderline with other Baltic States and owns a hinterland which represents the largest and most fire-prone forest of the world that is ecologically and socio-economically connected to the Baltic Sea region. The majority of problems concerning the expected increase of the regional fire problem due to climate change is primarily in the Russian Federation.

The nations bordering the Baltic Basin are now showing increasing interest to promote fire management systems in forests and open landscapes which need to be based on advanced fire science and technology development. The need has been recognized to create a forum in the Central-Northern European region in which the fire problems are entirely different from Southern Europe.

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2.2 The International Nexus

The UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire is promoting a cooperative approach of the nations bordering the Baltic Basin to share fire management expertise and resources. At the ECE/FAO/ILO Conference on Forest, Fire and Global Change (Russia 1996) and the First International Baltic Conference on Forest Fire (Poland 1998) the Team has proposed to set up pan-Baltic programs and exchange mechanisms encompassing fire research, fire management training, the use of prescribed fire (in forestry, nature conservation, and landscape management), and mutual fire emergency assistance.

As a consequence, the UN Fire Team established a Baltic Forest Fire Task Force which is chaired by Finland. Finland therefore was host of BALTEX FIRE 2000.

BALTEX FIRE 2000 is considered as a contribution to the Baltic 21 Action Programme which is an initiative for the application of the Agenda 21 in the Baltic Sea Region and includes the Baltic 21 Action Programme on Forests. This programme is in line with:

  • The UN Conference on Environment and Development UNCED (Rio 1992): Forest Principles and the Agenda 21, Chapter 11 on “Combating Deforestation and other”;
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Forest (IPF, 1995-1997); and
  • The Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe (Strasbourg 1990, Helsinki 1993, Lisbon 1998).

BALTEX FIRE 2000 was organized in line with the objectives of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) which constitutes the follow-up arrangement of the UN International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The meeting and exercise included the participation of an international group of wildland fire and industrial fire specialists which prepares the formation of an advisory group under the UN International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) scheme. This group will support the United Nations in coordinating and implementing international response to forest and other wildland fire emergencies worldwide.

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3. Conference Programme

3.1 Participants

A total of 85 participants of BALTEX FIRE 2000 consisted of five invited groups:

  • Nations bordering the Baltic Sea (Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden)
  • Observer countries (Belarus, United Kingdom)
  • Country members of the ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire (in addition to the representatives of the Baltic countries: Canada, Portugal, U.S.A.)
  • UN International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) Europe-Africa Region (Austria, Germany)
  • Country associated with a bilateral technical development programme of a Baltic country: Namibia

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3.2 Papers Presented

Following papers were presented in thematic sessions:

  • Host country Finland: Opening remarks and technical reports on programmes and projects in the country (Forest fire risk assessment; fire detection by satellite; aerial fire suppression; fire behaviour)
  • ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire: Introduction, retrospective on the 1st Baltic Conference on Forest Fires
  • Baltic and observer countries: Official national reports (Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden)
  • Prescribed burning focus: Finland, Germany, Norway
  • Other:
  • Peat fire problems (Finland)
  • North America (country report U.S.A.)
  • Fire research (Canada: The International Crownfire Modelling Experiment (ICFME); forest fires and global climate change)
  • Developing countries (Namibia: Integrated Forest Fire Management [IFFM])

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3.3 Working Groups

Two working group sessions were organized on 8 and 9 June 2000. The aim of the working groups was to address priority areas of action concerning forest and other wildland fire issues in the Baltic region and internationally. Three groups were formed:

  • Forest fire risk assessment, detection and monitoring of forest fires
  • Forest fires and environment
  • Transboundary operational cooperation in fire management, training and technical development

The results of the Working Groups are presented under (4).

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3.4 Demonstration Exercises

Two demonstration exercises were conducted during the conference. On 7 June a prescribed burning and forest fire suppression exercise was jointly conducted in Hyövynniemi, Heinävesi. The site consisted of an area (size: 12 ha) which was prepared for a prescribed nature conservation fire by the local Finnish Forest and Park Service. Despite the cold weather and lasting precipitation during the week preceding the exercise, favourable weather conditions on 7 June allowed a partial execution of the burn.

The second part of the field demonstration consisted of a demonstration of aerial and ground-based forest fire suppression capabilities. Aerial fire fighting was conducted by fixed-wing airplanes from Poland and Finnish helicopters using helibuckets. Fire brigades of Heinävesi and nearby municipalities as well as Russian fire brigades, supported by the Heinävesi District Police demonstrated their organizational and technical fire suppression skills at a highly professional level.

On 8 June a peat fire exercise was held in Kurkisuo, Suonenjoki, and demonstrated the fire hazards of peat production and related risk assessment, fire-fighting equipment and fire suppression. Due to heavy rains during the demonstration day the state-owned peat production company Vapo Oy, the Suonenjoki Fire Department and the Emergency Services College used smoke flares to demonstrate active fires and simulated their suppression.

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4. Conference Results Recommendations of BALTEX FIRE 2000

In the following the recommendations of the three Working Groups are provided.

4.1 Group I: Forest Fire Risk Assessment; Detection and Monitoring of Forest Fires

Group I prepared a list of recommendations in the form of keywords in the field of regional Baltic forest fire risk assessment, detection and monitoring of fire. The recommendations include:

  1. There is a need for common understanding and sharing of fire management information in the Baltic region. All Baltic countries should therefore summarize and circulate information on their national fire danger, prevention, detection and suppression systems. This could also be achieved through development of standardized country report forms (templates).
  2. In order to develop a general understanding of variation in fire danger/risk that exists across the Region, which would facilitate better transboundary (border-crossing) cooperation in terms of both operational fire management and fire research the fire danger/risk throughout Baltic Region should be evaluated using a common fire danger system (likely the Canadian FFDRS), and post daily fire danger maps of the GFMC website. Current country systems could still be used, but a common, over-arching system should be developed, perhaps with the European Forestry Institute taking the lead, with the help of meteorological institutions and country representatives.
  3. The development of a Baltic Region-wide land cover, vegetation, fuel classification system (or approach) would assist in converting fire danger calculations into prediction of fire behaviour for specific fuel types.
  4. While current satellites provide valuable research information (e.g. land cover), there is a strong need to develop fire-specific satellite technology (e.g., BIRD and FOCUS of the German Center of Aeronautical and Space Research – DLR) in support of aerial and tower-based detection systems.

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4.2 Forest Fires and Environment

The group prepared a list of recommendations in the form of keywords to be further explored and developed. A few explanatory remarks have been added to the list that was finally presented at the meeting.

I. The concept of “Forest and Forest Fire”

The use of the concept “forest” in the topic for the work was debated. (Forest) fire and environmental management will certainly involve important vegetation characteristics and fuel regimes that due to their successional stages cannot be precisely defined as forests, for instance different types of heathlands and other sub-climax communities. The use of different broad concepts such as “ecosystem” and “landscape type” might be evaluated in cases were more precise definitions of “forest” is difficult.

The following list of recommended fields and keywords must be further developed:

a. Scales

Any dataset, plan and management action on forest fires and the environment must be specific regarding definition of scale. Scale therefore need to be specified throughout most of the list of key words also given below. Examples:

  • Time
  • Space
  • Boreal
  • Local / regional / national
  • Habitat network
  • Population viability data.

b. Agreement on common standards

  • Fire regime
  • Fuel characteristics
  • Fire monitoring (incl. prescribed burning or wildfire)
  • Pre-planning
  • Fire weather
  • Fire effects, post-fire monitoring
  • Habitat types
  • Skills/techniques

c. Country fire history/regime

  • Habitat maps (EU-standards)
  • Fire weather/climate maps
  • Identification of affected and non-affected species and habitats
  • Current resource use
  • Fire frequency.

d. Identification of information gaps

It is essential to explore the process at any stage to identify where information might be lacking.

e. Country vision statement

Each country is recommended to write down their visions for the theme of forest fire and environment to create overall objectives for the planning and implementation process.

f. Country fire management strategy

To create detailed objectives to support the development of country fire policies, and action plans, including:

  • Biodiversity plans
  • Smoke management
  • Regulation and laws

g. Education/ Information

Several basic questions need to be addressed, e.g., the clarification of

  • Responsibilities
  • Methodologies and procedures
  • Format of a supportive network.
  • Methods of conflict resolution, e.g., National, regional, and local Round Tables on Fire Management in which all stakeholders will be involved

h. Training

Training is a key aspect of any future regional fire programme. Training will encompass formal training of researchers in

  • Fire ecology
  • Wildfire management
  • Application of prescribed fire
  • Multidiscipline activity
  • Fire research

i. Evaluation

The many research data set, plans and management actions needed will require a competent group that can evaluate efficiency and outputs from the process.

II. Country “Action Plans

Due to the broad range of issues and multi-faceted nature of (forest) fire and the environment each country is recommended first to develop a specific Action Plan which contain a list of elements or objectives. For each of the objectives an action plan (descriptive) and an implementation time scale must be given. The elements of the action plan should be priority ranked.

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4.3 Transboundary Operational Cooperation in Fire Management, Training and Technical Development

This group discussion was driven by the previous activities of the UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire and the initiative to establish a Wildland Fire Subgroup within the UN International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) Europe-Africa Region. The aim of the discussion was to further develop the efficiency and mechanisms of international cooperation in fire management, training and technical development.

Until recently the mandate of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) of the United Nations had been restricted to the “classical” SAR cases such as saving lives after earthquakes. However, experience has shown that secondary effects of natural and technogenic disasters require additional specialist advice in conjunction with SAR response and other humanitarian aid missions. The INSARAG family offers an appropriate structure.

At the regional INSARAG Europe-Africa meeting in December 1999 (Germany) a first proposal was elaborated to establish an INSARAG Fire Group consisting of three elements:

  • Wildland Fire
  • Hazardous Materials (Hazmat)
  • Industrial Fire

At a meeting at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) in January 2000 it was agreed that the original mandate of INSARAG which in addition to search and rescue would also cover wider aspects of disaster/emergency response. This could include a variety of natural and human-made disasters, including wildland fires. INSARAG would assist in strengthening UN-OCHA’s role by:

  • governmental experts advisory support in case of a major emergency
  • advisory experts to be provided out of the INSARAG family covering many fields of disaster relief

At the foundation meeting of INSARAG Fire it was recommended:

  • INSARAG-Fire is a global network of specialists in dealing with industrial fire, wildland fire and HAZMAT incidents affecting populations and the environment
  • INSARAG-Fire is organized in regional nodes
  • INSARAG-Fire has been initiated by a Starting Core Group of INSARAG Europe-Africa and will seek the establishment of Fire groups in the INSARAG Americas and Asia-Pacific regions.
  • Activation of involvement of existing international structures by calling on wildland fire expertise of international organizations and individuals already in place will be coordinated through the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) network
  • Encourage a continuous exchange of information through the Internet, initially utilizing the GFMC network

At BALTEX FIRE 2000 the meeting of the FAO/ECE/ILO Fire Team further elaborated on the formation of the INSARAG Fire Group and particularly on the Subgroup Wildland Fire. The final format of INSARAG Wildland Fire will be submitted to the next INSARAG Europe Africa Regional Meeting (Tunisia, November 2000).

The BALTEX FIRE 2000 recommendations for INSARAG Europe-Africa include:

a. Establishment of a Database

For the Europe-Africa Region a database should be developed on the base of circulated questionnaires which include information on:

  • Human resources for
  • Assessment of fire situations
  • Technical assistance
  • Fire fighting

It was stressed that fire specialists to be selected for deployment to international wildland fire emergency situations should be experienced or at least trained to work in national to local conditions of the recipient country (see recommendation [b]).

  • Equipment
  • Hardware and software for use in international emergency assistance operations (including national to regional fire equipment warehouses)
  • Availability and mobility of equipment (time, space) The need was underscored to observe and improve technical compatibility of equipment.
  • Information sources
  • Provider of data (real-time, near-real time) for fire situations, e.g. fire reconnaissance (from air and space), fire-weather or -danger forecasts, environmental and socio-economic conditions, etc.

b. International Fire Management Training Courses

The need is recognized to train fire management specialists to be used in international response groups. Training programmes still need to be defined but should certainly include elements which would prepare these specialists to foreign situations such as the specific conditions of a target nation or region, e.g.

  • natural fire environment (fuels, fire characteristics, fire behaviour);
  • geographic conditions (topography, water sources)
  • climate and weather (typical fire weather, local particularities such as wind patterns)
  • socio-cultural conditions (land-use systems, fire use, involvement of land users or the public in fire management activities, public response to foreign intervention, limitations of use of advanced technologies)
  • infrastructures and technical facilities (fire fighting resources)
  • policies and administrative settings and policies in place (legal framework, law enforcement, responsibilities of agencies, role and capabilities of NGOs)
  • information sources (provider of national to local real-time or near-real time data needed for fire situations assessments, e.g. fire aerial and spaceborne fire reconnaissance, fire-weather or -danger forecasts)

The training programme should include a link to the UN-OCHA / UNDAC system through which wildland fire specialists would be prepared to become candidate members for UNDAC missions in wildland fire emergencies.

International certificates should be issued in order to guarantee the competence and quality of fire management specialists deployed to international tasks.

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Figure 1. The BALTEX FIRE 2000 forest fire management exercise began with a prescribed burning experiment conducted by the Forest of Finland, the Park Service and the Forest Research Institute. The objectives of the prescribed fire included improvement of forest site conditions, biodiversity enhancement and an exercise for certification burning.

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Figure 2. In the second part of the forest fire management exercise several municipal fire departments, the police, the National Border Guard, and fire-fighting forces of neighbour countries Poland an Russia showed their high spirit of cooperation by sending  ground and aerial fire fighting forces.

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Figure 3. The Finnish coordinator of BALTEX FIRE 2000 and head of the Regional Baltic Focus of the UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire, Mr. Harry Frelander, in a TV interview at the edge of the fire exercise. Photos: Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC).

c. Utilization of the Existing GFMC Network for Building the Coordination Process

The existing forest fire network organized under the ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire and the Global Fire Monitoring Center should be used for further strengthening the regional Baltic to global collaborative process and coordinative efforts.

The establishment of a link to UN-OCHA and the INSARAG Secretariat must be secured. The role of the GFMC as facilitating and supporting instrument for UN-OCHA and the INSARAG Secretariat in wildland fire questions must be clarified.

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5. Immediate Actions to be Taken in the Baltic Region

The final discussion of the BALTEX FIRE 2000 plenary and the subsequent meeting of the ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire and the INSARAG Fire Group fully supported the recommendations of the three Working Groups.

The following short- to medium-term steps will be taken:

  1. Establishment of a special Website on the Baltic Region on the Homepage of the GFMC
  2. Design of a comprehensive and standardized format of a country profile in which the Baltic Region countries fully describe the basics on the fire situation in the country and the available fire-fighting resources for national, transboundary and international forest fire fighting, including contact numbers
  3. Distribution of the country profile questionnaire to the governments; subsequent placement of country profiles on the website
  4. Establishment of links and extraction of existing open internet and intranet websites which are currently constructed, e.g. in Finland (fire danger rating system, automatic regional fire detection system), Russia (fire information system), and Germany (GIS-based Fire Information System for the State of Brandenburg: integration of data and information from an automatic ground-based fire detection system, fire danger rating, and fire behaviour modeling)
  5. Publication of the national reports presented at BALTEX FIRE 2000 in the pages of UN-ECE/FAO International Forest Fire News (IFFN)
  6. Exploration of host countries and conveners for working group activities and the next BALTEX FIRE (possibly 2002)
  7. Conduct a first INSARAG Wildland Fire short introductory course in 2001; Finland has offered to investigate the possibility to host such a seminar.

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6. Related Activities

The FAO/ECE/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire recommended to follow up its activities in other countries of the ECE region. A meeting in the Southeast of the ECE region would be a logic continuation of a series of activities that had been initiated by topic- or region-focussed seminars, such as the meetings:

  • Fire Suppression Technologies (Poland 1981)
  • Fire Prevention (Spain 1986)
  • The Socio-Economic Environment of Fire (Greece 1991)
  • Forest, Fire, and Global Change (Russian Federation 1996)
  • The First Baltic Conference on Forest Fires (Poland 1998)
  • The Baltic Exercise on Fire Information and Resources Exchange – BALTEX FIRE 2000 (Finland 2000)

At BALTEX FIRE 2000 it was discussed to direct the attention of the next seminar on the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Basin and its adjoining regions which have not yet been addressed by the FAO/ECE/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire. The target region will include countries East of the Balkans, Turkey, the Near East and the central Asian ECE member states and those countries not being member of the ECE but bordering them in Central Asia, e.g. Mongolia and China.

Several reasons support this idea. First, the post-war situation in the Balkan countries as well as the South Eastern European countries which are still in transition, have not participated in recent activities of the Team and other international projects and programmes. This also refers to the neighbours of Turkey, such as the Kaukasus states, Iran, and furthermore Turkmenistan, Usbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

From the point of view of the Fire Team and the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) which coordinates the work of the team, these countries deserve full attention and support to bring them into the family of international community of forest fire scientists, managers and policy makers.

Turkey is situated in a strategically important place in the region. It was recommended that Turkey could be an excellent place in the Eastern Mediterranean region where the ecological and cultural influences of the countries mentioned above are meeting anyway. This makes Turkey ideal for convening a meeting of the mentioned forest fire community.

Thus, a possible conference to be organized in 2002 could be entitled tentatively:

“Forest Fire in the Eastern Mediterranean, Balkans and adjoining Regions of the Near East and Central Asia”.

It was recommended to approach the Forest Service of Turkey and suggest Turkey to host this conference.

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7. Acknowledgments

On behalf of the participants of BALTEX FIRE 2000, the Joint UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Committee on Forest Technology, Management and Training, and the new INSARAG initiative the leader of the UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire congratulated and thanked the government of Finland for hosting and generously financing the conference and exercise. Particular thanks were given to the staff of the Ministry of Interior and the Emergency Services College in Kuopio which proved high organizational skills, excellent conference facilities and well prepared field demonstrations. The engaged coordination with several municipal fire departments, the police, the National Border Guard, the Finnish Forest Research Institute and the Forest and Park Service in the field exercise activities were well visible. The neighbour countries Poland an Russia showed their high spirit of cooperation by sending ground and aerial fire fighting forces.

In his final statements he elaborated on the good spirit of the regional Baltic discussion and the willingness to come to a consensus concerning future collaboration in forest fire research, development and transboundary support in emergencies.

He also underscored the importance of the first joint meeting of the ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire and the INSARAG Fire Group and envisaged a strong common future action programme.

Contact Address

Johann G. Goldammer
Leader, UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire
and Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC)
Fire Ecology Research Group, c/o Freiburg University
PO Box, D-79085 Freiburg, GERMANY


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