As I write this, Europe is burning. So many huge fires are destroying thousands of hectares of forests across the continent during this latest heatwave.
the Mediterranean countries are the most affected, but the countries of central and western Europe, including Ireland, are also suffering.
We can all help prevent a fire from getting out of control. With a little planning, forest owners and countryside visitors can make a huge difference.
First, keep an eye on the Forest Fire Danger Rating issued by the Department of Agriculture. This color-coded rating provides an early warning of high fire hazard weather conditions; see www.teagasc.ie/firerisk
As a forest owner
Every forest owner should have an up-to-date, detailed and practical fire plan in place for each forest.
Developing a plan will help you think through the important things and will be a great help when a fire breaks out and a quick response is required.
For example, when a fire breaks out, it’s not the time to go get the key to the forest door!
A good fire plan should include a clear list of things to do when a fire breaks out to keep you, your family, your neighbors and the emergency services safe.
Have a detailed map immediately available showing access points, escape routes, muster points, equipment locations (such as PPE) and potential water sources (eg nearby river). It will be a great help for fire fighting personnel.
Also include contact information for emergency services, the consultant or logging company, neighboring landowners and local forest owners, to call for help if needed.
Have firefighting tools such as beaters, buckets, knapsack sprayers and pumps in good working order on hand.
Fire prevention relies on cooperation. The shared (and growing) threat of fire is an ideal opportunity for neighbors and forest owners to work together.
Owners of neighboring forests should develop joint fire plans and share responsibility for fire protection.
Forest owners must be particularly vigilant during periods of drought, especially at weekends and in the evening.
A period of 24 to 48 hours may be sufficient to dry out dead heathland vegetation after rain.
If a fire is detected, do not delay: immediately call the emergency services and activate your fire plan. Do not rely on others to call the fire department.
Where firebreaks are required, ensure they are inspected regularly prior to fire season and are clear of vegetation. Firebreaks should be at least six meters wide.
Also make sure that the access roads to your forest are kept in good condition. If there is a locked forest gate, make sure the padlock is well oiled and the well-marked key can be easily found.
Your forest is a valuable asset that gradually increases in value as the trees mature.
In addition, the Department requires subsidized forest owners to maintain and protect their forests. This includes an obligation to replant when a forest is damaged by fire.
Insurance has become much more expensive over the past couple of years, but it’s still important to have adequate coverage in place.
Consider insuring against restoration costs, loss of wood value and fire department costs.
Restoration costs vary according to the age and species of the forest but are often around €3,000/ha.
The value of wood increases with age and the annual insurance premium will reflect this.
The costs of the intervention of firefighters can be significant, so remember to cover these costs.
If your forest is destroyed or damaged by fire, you should report it to the nearest Garda station and the Department’s Forestry Division. The local forest inspector can advise on restoration measures.
As a visitor
Most forest fires in Ireland are caused by people, usually accidentally, but sometimes through negligent or even criminal behavior.
A forgotten grill or a jammed door can turn a small incident into something much, much bigger.
If a wildfire gets out of control, it will very quickly threaten homes and the safety of rural communities.
Forest fires destroy forests and peatlands. They destroy valuable but delicate habitats as well as its flora and fauna.
They release huge amounts of carbon. These ecosystems will take a long time to recover.
Forest fires destroy valuable timber resources that have taken a long time to mature.
And they take up the time and resources of emergency services.
Here’s how the general public can help:
■ Be considerate and do not park in front of entrances and gates, as this will obstruct access by emergency vehicles.
■ Do not light fires in and around forests or open areas.
■ If you see a fire, do not try to intervene in any way. Instead, gather all family or group members and move to a safe location, such as a car park, upwind of the fire, and immediately call the fire and rescue services on 112 .
Upcoming forestry events
The Forest Village at the Tullamore Show on Sunday August 14 will provide free, comprehensive and up-to-date information on forestry and renewable energy. See www.teagasc.ie/forestry
And the Woodland Festival on Sunday 28 August at the Clonalis Estate, Castlerea, Co Roscommon aims to foster greater awareness of the benefits of trees.
It will focus on forest management and the amenity aspects of our woods, as well as the use of wood in furniture, crafts and construction.
There will be live demonstrations, walks and talks, games, information booths, wood products, food, crafts and family entertainment. See www.woodlandfestival.ie
Steven Meyen is a Teagasc Forestry Advisor based in Ballybofey; [email protected]