Action plan vital in preventing forest fires

Q&A Steven Meyen (Teagasc)

Met Éireann confirmed last weekend that much of Ireland had entered a state of drought (defined as 15 consecutive days of rainfall less than 0.1 mm).

Along with low water supply, and fodder difficulties on livestock farms, the danger of devastating forest fires had reached a high level.

There have been 10 wildfire-related deaths in the past 15 years, according to Teagasc.

In 2011, some rural dwellers had to cope with fire fronts of up to 4km wide — large enough to be picked up by the MODIS satellite imagery used by the European Forest Fire Information System.

Even in last year’s prolonged wet weather, significant wildfires occurred last year. So there is potential this summer for even greater damage than in 2010 and 2011, when many thousands of hectares of productive forestry were destroyed by fire.

Steven Meyen, a forestry adviser in the Teagasc Forestry Development Department, says forest owners should be particularly vigilant for fires following dry spells — and it can take as little as 24-48 hours to dry out dead moorland vegetation.

Now, after the persistent dry conditions in July, experience suggests that forest owners should be particularly vigilant at weekends, and at evening times, when land burning is most likely to take place (even though the prohibited period for burning of growing vegetation is Mar 1 to Aug 31).

If fire is detected, summon help immediately, and activate your fire plan. Do not rely on others to call the Fire Service, advises Mr Meyen.

Forest owners should have a current and accurate fire plan for each forest. What should it include?

Every forest owner should have a rigorous, carefully prepared and up to date fire plan in place. Such a fire plan should include a map showing access and assembly points for fire fighting personnel and equipment and potential sources of water. It should also include up-to-date contact details for the emergency services, relevant forest management companies, forest owner groups, neighbouring landowners, and forest owners, in order to summon help should the need arise.

Fire-fighting tools such as beaters, buckets, knapsack sprayers and pumps are very useful. Make sure that they are ready to use. Slurry tankers can be used to transport water. Ensure that forest and bog roads are accessible and that all fire breaks are well maintained. And remember: please review and update fire plans over the winter, checking phone numbers, have discussions with neighbours, etc. so that all is ready prior to the fire season.

How can you work with neighbours to ensure your forest is protected from fire?

It is crucial to discuss this with your neighbours: co-operation is vital to successful fire prevention. Explain your concerns regarding fire risk to your neighbours. Owners of adjoining and neighbouring plantations should develop joint fire plans and share responsibility for guarding against fire. Be vigilant. Don’t assume somebody else will do something about it.

Fire breaks in forests are a basic procedure. What is required?

Plantations in high fire risk areas may require a fire break along external boundaries. The presence of flammable vegetation such as purple moor grass, whins and heather is a strong indication that a firebreak is required. Firebreaks are made using a digger screefing the top vegetation layer (exposing the mineral soil), thereby creating a fuel free zone six metres wide. It is important that existing fire breaks are inspected regularly prior to the fire season and kept vegetation free.

Why do you need forest insurance against fire? What costs should be covered?

Damage caused by fire is not covered by the Reconstitution of Woodland Scheme, since 2009.

It is therefore very important that forest owners insure their forest crops.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that only a minority of forest owners have done so. There are a number of effective insurance policies on offer. Policies may cover loss of timber value, cost of replanting, fire brigade charges, public liability and employer’s liability. Forest owners should shop around for the most suitable. However, keep in mind that the annual insurance premium reflects the (increasing) timber value.

How do I find out what the fire risk will be for my area over the next couple of days?

Met Éireann’s Fire Weather Index can be consulted at www.teagasc.ie/forestry on the homepage of Teagasc’s forestry website. This index provides information on the fire risk in different areas throughout Ireland taking into account current and past weather conditions. It also provides a forecast index for five days ahead. This fire weather index is updated daily.

You can also follow Teagasc Forestry on Twitter (@teagascforestry) or subscribe to the Teagasc Forestry e-newsletter which provides regular updates during periods of high fire risk.


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