20 April 2004 – Fighting fire with fire will be thenew strategy to prevent forest fires in Bhutan which devour thousands of acresof forests every year.
Termed as prescribed burning, the strategy basically involves burning of patchesin the forest in a controlled manner to create firebreaks according to fireexperts from the Rural Fire Service, government of New South Wales, Australia,who are in the country to train Bhutanese forest officials.
Trained forest officials will prescribe areas to be burned before theonset of the fire season, said Mr Russell Taylor of the fire experts whoadded that the method will be effective and cheaper in preventing forest firesin a region like Bhutan.
The two experts who trained about 15 forest officials of five forest fireprone dzongkhags said that few alternatives can compete with the fire methodfrom the standpoint of effectiveness and cost. Using hands to clear areas toprevent fire is difficult and bulldozing will have effect on the site, MrTaylor said. Controlled burning of areas under fire is the cheaper and moreeffective means.
Prescribed burning can be used both during forest fires and before, butgenerally this is applied before the fire season to create firebreaks. Areasof potential danger are identified and appropriate strategies are worked out toreduce dangers from fires, he said. As a trial, the experts together with thevillage forest extension agents burned about an acre of forest land in Mongar.
Bap Tandin Dorji of the forest fire section told Kuensel that the prescribedmethod would be the most appropriate strategy given the limited forest firefighting tools, man power, and the funds to manage forest fires.
The careful implementation and understanding of the process would benefitboth villagers and the forest department. Farmers will be able to burn fortheir lemon grass cultivation, apple orchard, fodder and for cattle withoutthreatening the forest, Mr Taylor said.
Prescribed burning was once tried by the nature conservation division, butfailed because of lack of expertise. The department of forest with funds fromthe Bhutan trust fund will train the geog forest extension agents and thevillagers to practice prescribed burning, Bap Tandin said. We will be able tosave at least the monasteries, villages, and schools located in the forests.
Apart from the prescribed burning strategy, the experts who were in Bhutanfor about a month also discussed medium and long-term programmes like communitybased fire plans and incorporating fire prevention and safety content into theschool curriculum. Children account for a majority of the causes of forestfires.
Incorporating fire preventive and management programmes in curriculum willhelp the priorities of the department of forestry services, fire expert Mr BJ Davies said in his presentation.
During the winter of 2002 to 2003, about 45 forest fires cases were reported,however the number of cases dropped to about 13 during the winter of 2003 to2004.