Forestry officials warn of worsening fire risk

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 April, 2007, 12:00am

The mainland faces a growing danger of forest fires and firefighters will have to focus on prevention to keep the risk to a minimum, say State Forestry Administration officials.

Du Yongsheng, director of the administration's law enforcement bureau, told a news conference yesterday a number of factors brought him to this conclusion, including a warming climate, increased human activity in forests, rapid expansion of forest coverage and out-of-date firefighting equipment.

Average temperatures have risen by between 0.5 and 0.8 degrees Celsius in the past 100 years, causing more droughts in most northern areas of the country, Mr Du said. Weather predictions for the next 10 to 15 years showed temperatures would rise by another 1.3 to 2.1 degrees Celsius, making forest fires more likely.

The nation's efforts to plant more trees have progressed in recent years, with the number of trees increasing annually by about 1 per cent. But the new trees are more susceptible to catching fire.

With human activity in forests increasing, the danger of fire has more than doubled, Mr Du said.

Though their job was becoming more difficult, he said firefighters still had to use obsolete equipment that was no longer used in most developed countries.

'We have aircraft that can carry only 1.5 tonnes of retardant, while six- to 10-tonne capacity aircraft have long been in use in developed countries,' Mr Du said.

The administration had asked the central government to increase spending in forest management, including firefighting, and Mr Du said he expected a dramatic response from Beijing in its new financial plans. He declined to give details.

But administration spokesman Cao Qingyao said that even with adverse weather conditions and mediocre firefighting equipment, his ministry would rely on people to prevent fires.

'Our figures showed 95 per cent of forest fires were caused by human activity.

'As long as we can work hard on that aspect, we can keep forest fires at a low frequency,' Mr Cao said.

The ministry is to set up low-cost webcams in major forest areas, to enable regional centres to monitor outbreaks.

The monitoring network, watchtowers and human patrols would enable firefighters to detect and put out forest fires in their early stages, Mr Cao said.

Mr Du said: 'Our goal is to extinguish 97 per cent of forest fires within a day.'

He said warning signs have been set up in all forest areas, including tourist parks, banning the lighting of fires. Anyone who violates the regulations would face harsh punishment, Mr Du said.

Beijing recently published guidelines for the establishment of sustainable forest plantations abroad by Chinese firms in response to criticism for importing too much timber. Neither official addressed the issue at the news conference.

Branching out

The area covered by forests on the mainland, in millions of hectares, according to the State Forestry Administration 175