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Uncleared fuel loads could cause fire to devastate timber plantations boffin warns

Fri, 18th February '11


Wildfire could devastate pine plantations in South Africa as high fuel loads accumulate, according to a paper to be presented at an international fire conference in South Africa in May.
And plantation owners are putting their staff and fire fighters at risk, should they not take action to reduce the hazard.

These are some of the key findings in research that will be presented at the Wildfire 2011 conference, which will be held in Sun City, South Africa, from May 9 – 13, 2011.
The conference is the hottest event on the international fire fighting calendar. The theme this year will be “Living with Fire – Addressing Global Change through Integrated Fire Management.” The conference is organised by AfriFireNet, the sub-Saharan wildland fire network, and funded by the South African government. It has the backing of the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the Food and Agricultural Organisation.

The paper on wildfire risk in pine plantations will be presented by Ben Bothma, Fire Risk Manager for Komatiland Forests, and Mike Cantelo, International Fire Operations Manager for Working on Fire. They recommend controlled fires, lit from both the ground and air, as the most efficient and cost-effective way of reducing forest fuel loads.

“Uncontrolled fire is the single biggest risk to the pine plantations around the globe,” they write in their conference paper abstract. “It is the one risk factor that cannot be predicted, or fully prepared for.
“At some stage in a plantation’s life, it will be subjected to wildfire, and possibly destruction. This is happening regularly, as the increase in rural subdivisions and rural expansion has resulted in a greater number of people and facilities being located close to plantations. More people and property are now exposed to the risk of fire.”

Fallen needles and thinned-out branches accumulate as pine plantations increase in value, they say. “Any uncontrolled fires in these plantations in even mild conditions will result in mass death to the growing stock, and put the community and firefighters at risk of injury.”

The wildfire risk of each plantation should be evaluated, and prescribed burns should take place under the forest canopy along buffer zones up to 1km wide, the researchers say. Komatiland Forest has conducted prescribe burns of about 30 000ha over the past three years, most of it by manual ignition.
One team of five people can burn up to 80ha per day, but aerial ignition increases this dramatically, to 1000ha per day. “By combining these two methods, the fire practitioner can guarantee to complete his burning schedule successfully,” they say.

“The additional spinoffs, like increase in mushroom growth and reduced use of herbicides, are positive and add value to the property.”

Issued by HWB Communications Pty Ltd on behalf of Wildfire 2011
For more information please call:
Evelyn John Holtzhausen, on +27-(0) 82 658 6007
E-mail: evelyn@hwb.co.za
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