VIETNAM – Hanoi (VNS/VNA) – Authorities in the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands regions are taking precautionary measures to protect forests facing high risk of fires due to the prolonged hot and dry weather.
Dry weather along with severe saline intrusion in the delta has caused forests to dry up.
But many places threatened with fires are also facing a shortage of water with levels falling sharply in canals and rivers.
Though the onset of the peak hot season has yet to occur, most cajeput and acacia trees in Ca Mau province’s U Minh Ha Forest are drying due to the rapid depletion of water in canals.
Some 19,583ha of forests face an extremely high risk of fire.
Around 3,775ha have been placed on danger level 4 (high), according to the forest management unit, U Minh Ha Forestry One Member Limited Company.
Tran Van Hieu, the director of the company, said forest rangers regularly inspect fire prevention works, reinforce and upgrade dykes, sluices and dams, clean and dredge canals, and repair and maintain pumps, pipes and fire hoses.
They have also increased patrols and are keeping watch round the clock from watchtowers.
“All must be in readiness at all times to respond quickly to fires.”
The company has established a steering committee with 14 members, 18 pump units with 81 members and six logistics teams.
It has coordinated with the people’s committees of a number of communes to establish 21 voluntary groups with 10-15 people each.
“People with experience in fighting forest fires and local authorities take part in our works,” Hieu said.
Propaganda activities have been organised to raise public awareness of preventing forest fires in the dry season, he said.
“Raising awareness among the public is the key to improving the effectiveness of forest fire prevention efforts.”
In recent years the value of forests has increased since local people have paid more attention to protecting them, he added.
More than 2,860 households have signed commitments on management and protection of forests, and prevention of fires.
In Kien Giang province too, authorities are focused on preventing forest fires.
Pham Quoc Dan, director of the U Minh Thuong National Park, said the fire prevention plans have been made since the beginning of the year.
“Depending on the situation and forecasts of forest fire risks, rangers will be mobilised.”
Special-use forests on Hon Khoai Island in Ca Mau province, Phu Quoc National Park in Kien Giang province and forest areas in mountainous districts of An Giang province face difficulties in combating fires.
Islands and mountains usually lack water, and so rangers have dug wells.
Regular patrolling is done and more forest protection stations have been set up in vulnerable places.
Truong Thanh Hao, head of the Kien Giang Province Forest Protection Department, said the lack of rainfall has dried up forests quickly, making it difficult to foresee fires.
“More forest rangers have been stationed in key areas with high risk of fires.”
Besides digging more wells, plastic water containers with a capacity of 2,000-5,000cubic metres have also been installed in high-risk areas on islands.
Truong Minh Hung, deputy head of the An Giang Province Forest Protection Department, said more forest rangers, firefighting vehicles and equipment are in the places with elevated risk of fire.
“Forest rangers co-operate with the police and military to patrol and check key areas.”
Nguyen Tien Hai, chairman of the Ca Mau People’s Committee, has instructed the province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to direct forest owners to strengthen firefighting facilities.
Hot weather and drought are also threatening forests in the Central Highlands.
Ha Cong Tai, head of the Forest Protection Agency, Region IV, has urged 11 cities and provinces on the south-central coast and Central Highlands to scrupulously undertake forest protection and fire prevention efforts.
The Kon Ray Forestry One Member Limited Company in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum is also working to prevent fires.
Vo Hong Huy, its director, said the company, which manages around 29,000ha of forests, including 600ha of pine trees, has signed seasonal contracts with 15 people to work 24 hours in turns at spots facing high risk of forest fires.
“Officials frequently visit the forest to remove flammable materials.”
Lam Dong province has issued detailed orders to protect forests.
It will not permit burning when the forest fire warning is at level 3 or higher.
The good time for clearing flammable materials is from the end of the rainy season (May-October) to January 15 every year.
The Dak Lak Province Forest Protection Department has instructed rangers to work with local authorities and forest owners to offer incentives to protect forests.
Forest fire risk alert
Water levels in canals in Ca Mau are 0.5-0.8m lower than at this time last year.
The province expects to face a serious shortage of freshwater during the ongoing dry season.
As of the end of January there were over 10,210 hectares in Ca Mau with forest fire danger level 3 (high) and another 12,440ha with danger level 4 (very high), according to the province Forest Protection Department.
Thousands of hectares saw warning level 5 this month.
In An Giang, 16,860ha are at level 4 and forecast to increase to level 5 next month.
Nearly 10,000ha in Kien Giang are at level 5, mostly in Hon Dat and Giang Thanh districts and Phu Quoc island./.