Wildfires could devastate pine plantations in South Africa as high fuel loads accumulate, states a research paper to be presented at the international Wildfire 2011 conference, in South Africa, in May.
Komatiland Forests fire risk manager Ben Bothma and Working on Fire international fire operations manager Mike Cantelo, who compiled the paper, warn that plantation owners are putting their staff and fire fighters at risk should they not take action to reduce the risk of this hazard.
They recommend controlled fires, lit from both the ground and the air, as the most efficient and cost-effective way to reduce forest fuel loads.
“Uncontrolled fire is the single biggest risk to pine plantations around the globe,” they write in a 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 fire- fighters at risk of injury.”
The wildfire risk of each plantation should be evaluated, and predetermined burns should take place under the forest canopy along buffer zones up to 1 km wide, the researchers say. Komatiland Forests has conducted preventive burns of about 30 000 ha over the past three years, most of it by manual ignition.
One team of five people can burn up to 80 ha/d, but aerial ignition increases this dramatically to 1 000 ha/d. “By combining these two methods, the fire practitioner can guarantee the completion of his burning schedule successfully,” they say.
“The additional spin-offs, like an increase in mushroom growth and the reduced use of herbicides, are positive and add value to the property,” they add.
The Wildfire 2011 conference theme will be Living with Fire – Addressing Global Change through Integrated Fire Management.
It is organised by AfriFireNet, the sub-Saharan wild land fire network, and is 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 of the United Nations.