Forest fires – we can all help
As Forestry Advisor Steven Meyen writes this, Europe burns. Huge fires are destroying thousands of hectares of forests across Europe during this latest and not last heatwave. Mediterranean countries are worst affected but central & western European countries including Ireland are also suffering.
What we can do
However, we can all help to prevent a fire from getting out of hand. With a bit of planning, both forest owners and visitors to the countryside can make a huge difference.
First of all, keep an eye on the current Forest Fire Danger Rating issued by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This colour-coded assessment provides an early warning of high fire risk weather conditions and can be consulted at www.teagasc.ie/firerisk.
As a forest owner
Every forest owner should have an up-to-date, detailed and practical fire plan in place for each forest. Putting such a plan together will not only help you to think through important elements but it will also be a great help when a fire occurs and a fast response is required. For instance, when a fire breaks out is not the time to go looking for the key to the forest gate!
Have a Fire Plan
A good fire plan should include a clear to-do list when a fire occurs to keep you, your family, neighbours and the emergency services safe.
It is essential to have a detailed map immediately available showing access points, escape routes, assembly points, equipment locations (such as PPE) and potential sources of water (e.g. nearby river). This will be a great help for fire-fighting personnel.
Also include contact details for the emergency services, forestry consultant or company, neighbouring landowners and local forest owners in order to summon help should the need arise.
Have fire-fighting tools such as beaters, buckets, knapsack sprayers and pumps to hand and in good working order.
Successful fire prevention is based on cooperation. The shared and increasing threat from fire is an ideal opportunity for neighbours and forest owners to work together. Owners of adjoining and neighbouring forests can and should develop joint fire plans and share responsibility for guarding against fire.
Forest owners should be particularly vigilant during dry spells and even more so at weekends and at evening times. A period of 24-48 hours can be sufficient to dry out dead moorland vegetation following rain. If fire is detected, do not delay, summon help immediately and activate your fire plan. Do not rely on others to call the Fire Service.
Where fire breaks are required, ensure that they are inspected regularly prior to the fire season and kept vegetation-free. Fire breaks should be at least six metres wide. Also ensure access routes to your forest are maintained in good order. If there is a locked forest gate in place, make sure the padlock is well oiled and that the well-marked key can easily be found!
Protect your asset
Your forest is a valuable asset gradually increasing in value as the trees mature. In addition to that, DAFM requires grant-aided forest owners to maintain and protect their forests. This includes an obligation to replant where a forest is damaged by fire. Although, insurance has got much more expensive over the last couple of years, I believe it is still a necessity to have adequate insurance cover in place.
Consider insuring against re-establishment costs, loss of timber values and fire brigade call-out charges. Re-establishment costs vary depending on the age and species of the forest but are often in the region of €3,000 per hectare. Timber values increase with age and the annual insurance premium will reflect this increasing timber value. Fire brigade call-out charges can be substantial and adequate cover for this should also be considered.
If your forest is destroyed or damaged by fire, you should report this to the nearest Garda Station and to the Forestry Division, DAFM. The local forestry inspector can advise on reinstatement measures.
As a visitor
Most wildfires in Ireland are caused by people. Usually accidentally but sometimes through careless or even criminal behaviour.
A forgotten barbecue or a blocked gate can turn a small incident into something much, much more serious. If a wildfire gets out of hand, it will threaten very quickly the homes and safety of rural communities.
Wildfires destroy forests and bog land. They destroy valuable but delicate habitats and its flora and fauna. They release huge amounts of carbon. These ecosystems will take a long time to recover.
Wildfires destroy valuable timber assets that took a long time to mature.
And while hundreds of emergency personnel are trying to bring such pointless wildfires under control, emergency services are not in a position to respond to the needs of their own local communities.
That is why we all have a responsibility to prevent this from happening. Here's how we can help.
It is really important to be considerate and not to park across entrances and gates because by doing so you will impede access by emergency vehicles.
As I said earlier, a small incident can quickly get out of hand so don’t light fires in and around forests or open land. If you do see a fire, do not attempt to intervene under any circumstances.
Instead, it is much better to gather all family or group members and move to a safe location such as a car park, upwind of the fire.
Immediately ring the Fire and Rescue Services on 112 and report the fire and its location. When the emergency services have arrived, please cooperate with all requests and instructions.
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