This October, the 6th International Wildland Fire Conference (IWFC) focuses on “Fire of the Past, Fires in Future” and seeks to prevent disasters by sharing fire management models, science and practices.
by KO Kiyeon
Around the globe, 3 to 6 million square kilometers of vegetation are affected by land-use fires and uncontrolled wildfires annually. It is reported that more than 723,000 people were evacuated in wildfire situations in 32 countries and 16,100 houses were destroyed between 2011 and 2014. Compared with the statistics of the world as well as major fire-affected countries, damage from forest fires in the Republic of Korea is relatively small. When considering this, what does it mean that Korea hosts the biggest wildfire-related international event, the 6th International Wildland Fire Conference (IWFC)? What will Korea be able to contribute to the international community in terms of wildland fire management?
Because of the topography and landscape conditions in Korea, the terms “forest fire” or “mountain fire” (sanbul in pronunciation of Korean language) are used to indicate fires in open areas, excluding construction fires. “Forest Fire” is also commonly used for open-area fires throughout the Asian region. The government agency responsible for open-area fires is the Korea Forest Service (KFS), which administers forest policy establishment and implementation.
The KFS bid to host the IWFC beginning with the 4th conference in k2007, but bids against major fire-affected countries were not successful until the 6th conference of this year. Harsh fires in the past in Korea and ongoing efforts to strengthen fire management policy in the region prompted the KFS to offer the platform where global fire issues are discussed.
Many Korean people will not forget the fire in Goseong County, Gangwon Province in 1996. About 38 square kilometers of forest burned. Four years later, several severe fires burned simultaneously in five locations in the eastern part of Korea in the second week of April 2000. Between Goseong County in Gangwon Province and Wuljin County in Gyungbuk Province, nearly 238 square kilometers of forest burned. In these large-fire years, there were 2 fatalities, 15 injuries, 491 homes destroyed, and many livestock lost.
Fire incidents in the eastern part of Korea were disastrous because of combined topography and weather condition factors. However, it was also true that our incident management system, which responds to natural disasters, was not prepared to control rapidly spreading fire.
After the chain of costly lessons, the KFS has made investments at the national level to cope with fire disasters in a swift and systematic way. Multilateral implementation of endeavors, which are still emphasized today, include fire prevention policies, suppression equipment developments and upgrades, continued education and training efforts, and reinforcement of this system in local governments. Since implementing these efforts in the public sector, there have been no deadly fire records since 2005.
The model of Korea may not be directly transferrable to all countries in the same manner. Weather conditions, climate zones, and landscape characteristics including forest size and land use will need to be taken into account. Also the causes of fires and their spreading potential will need to be considered. Each country’s individual socio-economic environment will also influence the interests in and concerns with financing fire management. For example, in some developing countries, crop cultivation requires fire use. In a large country with vast unsettled territory, a fire outbreak can go undetected for several days and suppression may not be immediately necessary. In some countries, natural resources and cultural heritages are threatened by fire and there is no means or methodology of prevention or control.
In this regard, it is apparent that sharing experiences and knowledge with all interested parties can help the response to disastrous fire outbreaks around the world. As the major objective of the IWFC is to share perspectives and policies on fire, Korea and the KFS are pleased to advance this dialogue.
The world has recognized the reforestation efforts of Korea’s Forest Rehabilitation Projects, which launched in 1973. Korea is now sharing its valuable experiences with partner countries in Asia and Latin America. Among the efforts of cooperation and recognition in the international community, is Korea’s model for various aspects of fire management including fire prevention, early fire detection, fire control and suppression, and post-fire rehabilitation. Hosting the 6th IWFC will be another big step toward joining forces with the world in natural conservation and adaptation to climate change.
In the exhibition running parallel with the conference, Korea hopes participating companies get an excellent opportunity to showcase their cutting edge technologies and innovations while broaden their markets. Also, it expects to introduce and broaden the KFS technologies. Forest officials can learn from visits to the Central Situation Room in the Forest Fire Prevention and Control Division of the KFS. Hopefully, Korea’s systems such as the Forest Fire Control System, Korean Mountain Fire Pumping Suppression System, Fire Engines, and Forest Fire Incident Command System can be adopted by or serve to inspire interested countries.
As we prepare for the conference, Korea would like to thank all interested and concerned experts who will be making presentations and recognize the willing and devoted participation from the private sector. We also appreciate the student participation in the Youth Program where young scientists will present their theses while competing with peers from the same field but different backgrounds. Don’t miss this long-awaited gathering to build a safer world.
For more information: https://en.wildfire2015.kr/.
KO Kiyeon is Director of the Forest Fire Prevention and Control Division, The Korea Forest Service, and serves on the Organizing Committee for the 6th International Wildland Fire Conference (IWFC). (firstname.lastname@example.org)