Forest fire management

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A fire burns across a broad front in Kalimantan,
Indonesia.

Once highly resistant to fire, significant areas of tropical moist forests have gone up in flames in recent years. The impacts can be devastating: tropical forest fires destroy homes, livelihoods and wildlife and pollute river systems. The smoke hazes create health and navigation hazards on a regional scale, and the carbon emitted contributes significantly to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

It is therefore imperative that the threat of tropical forest fire be addressed. But fire in tropical forests is such a complex issue that attempts to deal with it in a haphazard way are doomed to fail. The concept of integrated forest fire management (IFFM) has been developed to encourage a systematic approach to forest fire and describes the total program effort for effective fire management. It is not limited to the traditional efforts of fire prevention and fire suppression, but also embraces the use of prescribed fire as a tool, community involvement, and law enforcement.

IFFM underpins the ITTO guidelines on fire management in tropical forests, which were published in 1997. These provide a step-by-step process by which tropical countries can analyse their fire management situation and develop workable programs to deal with it. Written to be broadly applicable throughout the tropics, they contain seven broad categories of issues important to any fire program; within each of these are principles known to affect fire management, and for each principle there are recommended actions. Those using the guidelines must evaluate the local situation and decide if the recommended action should be applied as it is, modified to fit, or rejected as being non-applicable to the circumstances.

Through its project program, ITTO is working with several governments to build capacity for managing fire and to implement the fire guidelines. Through a decision by the International Tropical Timber Council it also offers tropical countries access to professional assistance in planning an IFFM approach and developing project proposals for possible funding by the international community. To date, assistance has been provided for the Philippines, Colombia and Peru.

For a detailed account of ITTO's action agenda, please refer to the ITTO Action Plan 2008-2011, or click on Resources and Project portfolio to see more about ITTO's work on forest fire management.