International Wild Fire Conference to be held in Asia for the first time
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 total of 16,100 houses destroyed between 2011 and 2014.Comparing with the statistics of the world as well as major fire affected countries, the damage from forest fires in the Republic of Korea is relatively small. When considering this fact, 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?
In Korea, because of topographical condition and landscape of territory, it is usually said ‘forest fire’ or ‘mountain fire’ (sanbul in pronunciation of Korean language) when indicating fire in open area excluding construction fire. ‘Forest Fire’ is also a common term used in Asian region. The responsible government agency for open-area fire is the Korea Forest Service (KFS) which administers forest policy establishment and implementation.
The KFS had bid for hosting the conference since the 4th conference which took place in Seville, Spain in 2007. Competing with the major fire affected countries that also bid for holding, its endeavor becomes fruitful to host the 6th conference this year. The reason it has desired to offer the platform in which global fire issues are discussed derives from several harsh fires Korea had to encounter scores of years ago and ongoing exertions to strengthen fire management policy.
Many Korean people cannot forget the fire in Goseong County, Gangwon Province in 1996. About 37.62 square kilometers of forest were burnt down. After 4 years later, more severe fires simultaneously affected 5 locations in the eastern part of Korea from 7 to 15 April, 2000. Between Goseong County in Gangwon Province and Wuljin County in Gyungbuk Province, 237.94 square kilometers of forests were burnt out with the record of 2 fatalities, 15 injuries, and 491 destroyed houses, and many livestock were killed by fires during this period.
Fire incidents in the east part of Korea have mainly occurred by characteristic of natural disaster with combined factors of topography and weather condition. But it was also true that our incident management system to respond to disasters was not prepared enough to control rapidly spreading fire.
After the chain of costly lessons, the Korea Forest Service (KFS) has made investments at national level to cope with fire disasters in a swift and systematical way. Multilateral implementations including fire prevention policy, development and upgrade of suppression equipment, continuous education and training, and reinforcement of the system in local governments have been emphasized and the endeavor continues until now. As the outcome of the efforts in the public sector, there were no deadly fire records since 2005.
The model of Korea may not be adopted in all countries in the same manner. Weather condition, climate zone, and landscape are very different from one another. Area size of forest or land also varies. The causes of fires and their spreading status are affected by countries’ own natural and social factors. Each country’s individual socio-economic environment makes large difference in interest and concerns in financing for fire management. In developing countries, crop cultivation needs fire. In a country with vast territory, there are many cases that a fire outbreak is not detected for several days. Sometimes, natural resources and cultural heritages are threatened to be burned up with no means of prevention and control methodology.
In this regard, it is apparent that sharing experiences and knowledge with all interested parties can help respond to disastrous fire outbreaks around the world. It is the major objective of the IWFC to share perspectives and policies on fire.
The world has given attention to the outcome of Korea’s Forest Rehabilitation Projects for reforestation launched in 1973. The country is now sharing the valuable experiences with partner countries in Asia and Latin America. Among the efforts of cooperation, its model for various aspects of fire management including fire prevention, early detection, fire control and suppression, and rehabilitation has also been recognized to the international community. Hosting the conference will be another big step to join 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, and broaden their market. Also, it expects the KFS’s technologies can be introduced to abroad. When forest officials from abroad visit the Central Situation Room in Forest Fire Prevention and Control Division of the KFS, they show big interest. 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 in many countries interested.
There are less than two months left before the conference. Korea would like to thank all interests and concerns from experts who will make presentations in sessions, and willing participation and devotion from private sector. And it appreciates students’ participation in the Youth Program where young scientists can present their theses while competing with friends studying the same field but from different countries and environments. Don’t miss this 4-year long-awaited gathering to build a safer world.