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Train Local Communities To Prevent Forest Fires

Train Local Communities To Prevent Forest Fires, UN Tells Mediterranean Countries

New York, Jul 25 2005

Mediterranean countries could save lives and billions of euros every year if they better trained and mobilized communities in preventing and controlling forest fires, which destroy up to 700,000 hectares annually in the region, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

“The northern Mediterranean countries are spending billions of euros annually on their fire fighting budgets, but only a small fraction of these resources are used for the training of rural and urban populations,” FAO forest fire expert Mike Jurvelius noted.

“Since people are the main cause of forest fires, prevention and control must mainly involve communities living near forests,” he added, stressing that investing in fire education will reduce the number of fires and the cost of fire management. In the Mediterranean region, there are often more than 100,000 fires in a single fire season, with some countries recording over 20,000 fires every year.

The cost of fire education campaigns is very low compared with the operating costs of a water bomber, which average 3,500 euros per flying hour; the cost of a large fire helicopter can amount to as much as 20 million euros. “For the price of one large fire helicopter 10 million people could be trained in fire prevention and control,” Mr. Jurvelius said.

The main causes of outbreaks in rural areas are agricultural burning and conversion of forests to croplands, burning of residues and waste, burning forests to improve hunting, and arson. Barbecues and fires in camping sites also cause many wildfires. The recent destructive fires in Central Spain, which killed more than 10 people, were caused by the careless handling of fire during barbecues, FAO noted.

Since the 1980s, climate fluctuations have caused more frequent changes in wind direction and have also led to more intense winds. This has made fighting forest fires more difficult and has resulted in more severe fires and higher death tolls.

“As long as people do not understand the dangers of using fire in the open without proper protection and often under extreme weather conditions, like hot summer temperatures of sometimes over 35 degrees, the fight against forest fires will continue to rely on heavy and very costly equipment such as fire-fighting planes and will be of only limited success,” Mr. Jurvelius said.

FAO has called upon governments to prepare voluntary guidelines for fire management and provide financial resources for awareness campaigns. Early warning systems should keep the population aware of the risk of fires in critical periods, and the use of open fires should be absolutely prohibited.

ENDS

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