Whipped by dry weather and strong winds, forest fires occur frequently in Korea these days, according to Korea Forest Service (KFS). During a recent weekend, as many as 42 wildfires were reported nationwide. From January 1 through March 19, 2017, KFS reported 224 forest fires, affecting 118 ha of forest. “This is a huge loss to the nation,” said KFS.
Responding to the dismissal situation, KFS declared the March 15-April 20, 2017 period as the “Large Forest Fire Prevention Special Period.”
Statistics released by KFS show that a total of 142 fires were ignited between January 1 and March 12 this year,affecting 98.5ha. Compared to last year, the number of fires rose 31%, with the burned area spiking 228%. Analyzing the cause of fires, burnings of garbage accounted for 21%; accidental fires by mountain visitors 20%; and levee fires 15%.
During the cited period (58 days), rainfalls totaled only 2,256mm in comparison to 5,119mm (48 days) of the previous year, which contributed to more forest fires this year.
By region, Gyeonggi Province, which borders the capital city of Seoul,sufferedthe largest number of 27 fires; followed byNorth Gyeongsang Provincewith 20; Gangwon Province with 17; and South Gyeongsang Province with 16.
KFS forecast that dry weather and high temperatures will hit the nation in March and April, along with high winds. Vulnerable to wildfires are Gangwon Province, the East Coast of North Gyeongsang and inland areas of the central region.
During the Cheongmyeong-Hansik days (April 4-5), wildfires will likely increase in Korea due to upsurges in the number of mountain visitors and hikers and levee fires, according to KFS.Forest fires are commonly ignited in the lower part of a mountainous area and spread to the top of the mountain.
Fires generally are ignited by carelessness of mountain and tomb visitors and burnings of levees, said KFS. Forest fires can inflict huge damage to people and structures sometimes. In 2005, a fire in Yangyang, Gangwon Province burned the 1,000-year-old Naksan Temple and 1,000 ha of forest along the East Coast. In 2013, “urban wildfires” in Pohang and Ulju left many people dead, burning a lot of forests.
KFS will take various measures to prevent fires, especially massive ones. The organization will utilize its 47 drones and surveillance cameras to monitor vulnerable areas. KFS has 45 firefighting helicopters. In times of emergency, more than 100 helicopters will also be available from local governments, firefighters and military. KFS makes it rule to arrive at the scene of fire within 30 minutes.
In order to prevent wildfires, KFS said that burnings of levees and garbage in areas near forests or wooded areas should be avoided. Second, hikers should not walk into restricted areas and closed trails. Smoking or any act of igniting fire in forests is prohibited, said KFS.Persons,who are found guiltyof igniting wildfires intentionally, can face harsh penalty. Those can be sentenced up to 7 years of imprisonment.
Trends in massive forest fires (2007-2016)
During the 2007-2016 period, 25 mid-size and large forest fires (with burned area of 30 to over 300 ha) occurred in Korea. The affected area stood at 2,360 ha. Of note, 76% of these wildfires were ignited in March and April, with the burned area accounting for 86%.
□ Fireswith burned area of over 30 ha (2007-2016)
KFS to hose 2021 World Forestry Congress
The Korea Forest Service will host the 15th World ForestryCongress in Seoul, 2021. KFS’s expertise and knowledge, which have been accumulatedover the last 50 years since its establishment, along with proactive actions taken bythe officers of the International Affairs Bureau, have made it all possible for Koreato be the host country of the Congress. It can be an excellent opportunity for Koreaand KFS to share and impart successful rehabilitation experience, knowledge,various techniques and skills to developing countries.
An agreement for the establishment of the Asian Forest Cooperation Organization(AFoCO) has been ratified domestically, which makes it possible for the international organization to kick off in time.
Support for Overseas Forest Investment
As the world faces global warming challenge, countries around the world are seeking to mitigate carbon emissions. The Korea Forest Service set a goal of 1million ha plantation by 2050 to secure sustainable use of forest products and expandcarbon sinks to mitigate global warming.
Overseas investment projects will lead Korea to have competitive edge over forestsaround the world and secure a sustainable supply of raw materials from the forests.Systematic plantation by registered companies can protect the forests by using sustainablereforestation methods and restricting and controlling illegal logging activities andtrade of illegally harvested logs.In 2016, a total of 97 companies registered for overseas forest resources developmentbusiness in 23 countries, 34 companies are conducting overseas plantation projectsin 14 countries (413,000ha).