Forest firefighters work during a prescribed burn in Guatemala as part of the country’s IFFM approach. ITTO encourages integrated approaches to tropical forest fire management. Photo: C. Gómez
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 kill people, destroy homes, livelihoods and wildlife, and pollute water catchments. Smoke hazes from tropical forest fires create health and navigation hazards on a regional scale. The huge fires that burned in Borneo in 1997 and 1998 rang alarm bells among tropical forest managers and fire experts. Heavy rains finally extinguished the fires, and ITTO launched a programme aimed at encouraging integrated approaches to tropical forest fire management.
Integrated forest fire management (IFFM) comprises a systematic approach to forest fire management. It encompasses both the traditional efforts of fire prevention and fire suppression as well as the use of prescribed fire as a tool, community involvement, and forest 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 analyze their fire management situation and develop workable programmes to deal with it. Written to be broadly applicable throughout the tropics, the guidelines contain seven categories of issue important in any fire programme; 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 inapplicable in the circumstances.
Through its project portfolio, ITTO has built capacity in IFFM and to implement the ITTO Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests with several of its tropical member countries.