The prevention of forest fires and other wildland fires embraces a wide range of measures that modify fuels and modify human behavior around or within the fire-threatened resources so that the initiation, spread, and intensity of fires are reduced to such an extent that they can be controlled by the technical means available.
In order to minimize any adverse impacts, some of the proposed measures outlined here may need to be modified when being applied to high conservation value areas particularly reserves.
Human Behavior Modification
A major component of forest fire prevention is managing the human element, which is the main cause of forest fires. People start most fires in the tropical forests of the world. Preventing fires started by humans most often involves: 1) education and informing those segments of the public that constitute the risk component of fire ignition; 2) training people in the proper use of fire in order to minimize the opportunity for fire to escape, and to reduce off-site damage; and 3) promoting more responsible behavior by those who often fail to control the fires they start, by ensuring that these people will actually benefit from fire prevention (e.g. by providing incentives/rewards for those whose behavior limits fire damage to forests).
Fuel management involves the treatment of combustible surface fuels and the near-surface aerial fuels which allow fires to spread from the ground and into the forest canopy. The treatment of these fuels is concentrated within narrow buffer zones (e.g. fire break or fuel breaks); or is applied to broad areas inside or adjacent to the forest stands to be protected.
The establishment and maintenance of mineral earth fire breaks along boundaries between the forest estate and other areas can be useful in the control of low intensity wildfires. However, since fires may easily cross fire breaks which are several meters wide, it is often extremely uneconomical to establish and to maintain such large unproductive strips of land. Furthermore, fire breaks can favor the establishment of undesirable species; and in steep terrain lead to soil erosion during the rainy season.
Fuel breaks differ from fire breaks, in that they are generally wide (20 m to 300 m) strips of land on which the native flammable vegetation has been maintained, altered, or replaced by introduced vegetation so that fires burning into them can be more readily controlled.
Fuel breaks can be maintained economically in the tropics by agricultural or agroforestry systems. The design of agricultural fuel breaks should be according to the suitability of sites for growing crops. The selection, treatment and harvest of crops should observe the seasonality of fire danger (e.g. removal of flammable residues before the onset of the high fire danger period).
Silvopastoral fuel breaks involve the integration of grazing within treeless strips, or under wide-spaced tree overstory (shaded fuel breaks). The grazing resource may either be native vegetation or seeded grass species. Pastoral fuel breaks may include fire breaks, particularly in those areas where prescribed fire is applied for fuel break maintenance.
Shaded fuel breaks can often benefit both pasture and forest management, so long as the selection of tree and animal species is done carefully to ensure the compatibility of both uses (e.g. avoid damage caused by browsing animals, etc.).
Fuel breaks may also be established where they are not utilized for agricultural land uses, so long as slash from thinning and pruning operations is removed by hand or mechanical means (e.g. shredding or chipping to small particles).
Fuel Reduction Burning
Fuel reduction burning is a form of prescribed burning involving the application of planned fire to wildland fuels in either their natural or modified state under specified environmental conditions which allow the fire to be confined to a predetermined area. The objective of fuel reduction burning is to decrease combustible materials so that wildfires can be more readily controlled.
Fuel reduction should be applied where it is safe and cost-effective; and where there is a potential of unwanted fire starts, a risk to human lives, and a significant damage potential. The frequency of burning is governed by the rate of fuel build-up, the known tolerance of the ecosystem to frequent fire, and the resources available to carry out the work.
It is necessary to have reliable information on weather, fuel conditions, and fire behavior. It is also desirable to have information on fire effects. These factors constitute the basic elements of a burn prescription. Other factors that should be considered include terrain, access, and conditions which affect the environment (e.g. smoke, soil erosion, etc.).
Prescribe burning is also conducted for other objectives such as:
Site preparation for plantation establishment and natural regeneration;
Land use changes (e.g. conversion from forest to agriculture land);
Pest control (e.g. insects and diseases);
Fire dependent ecosystem maintenance; and
Wildfire control (e.g. back burning and fuel reduction).
As in fuel reduction burning, the use of fire for other fire management objectives requires planning, resources, and reliable information about fuel loads and weather conditions.
Other Prevention Tools
Fire Access Roads
In developing plans for rural, main, secondary and/or access roads, alternative routes should be considered to strategic locations, including the construction of heliports and water supply sources, and the provision of manual equipment for fire fighting.