Gearing up for the fire season

Besides stern legislation and regular public awareness, the department of forest and park services has come up with various innovative initiatives to prevent forest fires this season.

One of these initiatives is pre-prevention measures such as fire breaks to reduce spread of a potential fire and facilitate effective suppression.

“Fire breaks are designed to interrupt the continuity of fuels,” said Ram Bahadur Mongar with Forest Fire Management Section, under the department. “In case of fire, fire breaks normally will slow the rate of spread, enabling the ground fire fighters to reach the head of the fire and suppress it easily promptly with relative safety.”

The department, with support from UNDP, has initiated installing Internet protocol (IP) cameras. So far IP cameras have been installed at Talakha, Tharana Lhakahng, around Hindu Temple and Wangduetse in Thimphu. The cameras will help identify culprits starting fires and early detection.

The department also has prevention measures to address the management of forest fire such as the annual awareness campaigns. Numerous picnic and camping sites had been established and guidelines framed to prevent fires by people visiting forested areas for recreation purposes.

The department maintains its independent communication network, for coordination, prevention, detection and suppression activities.

The network includes repeaters installed at various strategic locations on the top of mountains to cover the command area and the system is currently available in the western part of Bhutan. Two ways hand sets (Motorola/HYT/Alcano) are distributed to field staff of fire prone areas.

Ram Bahadur Mongar also said that the department is yet to establish Fire lookout stations in strategic locations in fire prone areas of dzongkhags. Currently only Thimphu valley has this, which is supported by Royal Bhutan Police.

“During the fire season, the service of Royal Bhutan Police Fire Brigade tower located at Chamzamtok is utilized,” He said.

To carry out on time fire suppression the department has organized forest fire volunteer group in Thimphu with more than 700 members.

The group comprises civil servant, students, DESSUP and corporate employees. At the beginning of every fire season, basic fire fighting training is organized for the group. When incident occurs, the volunteer attend to the suppressing the fire.

Ram Bahadur also said that throughout the fire season, a number of forest officers remain on duty on rotation. In case of a fire, they lead the forest fire fighting task force to the scene of the fire and organize and coordinate the suppression operation.

The department is supported by Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) Fire Brigade fire engines.

More than 600 volunteers have also registered with the Forest Fire Management Program. They include students, civil servants and private individuals.

As a preventive measure Ram Bahadur Mongar said Mass awareness campaigns in burning agricultural debris safely is done before the onset of the fire season.

The department also has an understanding with the Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) to clear the line corridor to avoid forest fires.

As per the Department’s record 2013 – 2014 recorded the most devastating fire, which lasted for a week in the eastern part of country dominated by Chirpine forest.

The fire saw completely damaged 21 houses and partially damaged four houses.

A total of 356 forest fire outbreak were reported across the country in the past seven years, destroying over more than 81,526 acres of forest.

Forest fire in Bhutan starts from November till May every year while in Eastern part of the country peak fire season is between February and March. The risk factor in Eastern and Western region are very high compared to southern regions where the total annual rainfall is less than 1000mm.

Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue Phodrang, Lhuentse, Trashigang, and Bumthang are the districts which are prone to forest fires.

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