DOST develops computerized systems for preventing forest fires

From 1978 to 1996, forest fires in the Philippines destroyed approximately 304,345 hectares or an average of 16,000 hectares per year. From 1992 to 1996 alone, fire damage was estimated at P465 million.

“Forest fires damage the soil and biodiversity in affected areas,” said the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD).

“These also derail the country’s reforestation efforts.”

These are some of the reasons why PCAARD has developed science- and technology-based tools to help forest managers and other stakeholders in predicting the probability of fire occurrence.

“The fire behaviour model simulates and predicts fire movements,” said the newly-released PCAARRD Information Bulletin No. 25.

The tools are integrated with geographic information system (GIS), remote sensing, global positioning system (GPS), and Web innovations.

“These interactive disaster and hazard management models were programed for easy information dissemination and will allow a location-specific application,” PCAARRD, a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology, explained.

“Using this web-enabled hazard decision support system, various maps – which can be resized on-screen and point-clicked with their corresponding attributes and statistics – can be accessed and generated,” it added.

Negative impacts and destruction brought by uncontrolled forest fires are unlimited.

As such, preventing forest fires is better than any fire control measure.

“Fire prediction is an important prevention measure,” PCAARRD said.

The PCAARRD-funded program enabled researchers to develop a forest fire hazard and behavior forecasting and a risk reduction system using GIS.

“Through the project, fire hazard maps were developed for Itogon, Benguet, and Carranglan, Nueva Ecija.

The maps used the prediction equation, which combines a number of critical factors that significantly influence forest fires. These are: vegetation or land cover; proximity to farms; distance to roads; slope; and aspect,” the information bulletin said.

Vegetation refers to the vegetative cover or current land use pattern which determines the kind, quantity, and quality of fuels present on site.

Fuels present, as an element of the fire triangle, determine fire risks.

“An element of fire triangle is a model that shows the relationship between the essential elements of fire,” the information bulletin explained.

Proximity to farms and road is a factor in the prediction equation due to previous fire incidents in farms and careless passers-by and pranksters throwing lighting materials like lighted cigarettes.

The area’s slope, meanwhile, enhances burning since “the steeper slope promotes rapid spread of fire upslope.”

The aspect refers to the horizontal direction where the mountain slope faces.

“The aspect is also considered because drying of fuels is more prevalent along east-west slopes than north-south facing slopes,” the PCAARRD publication informed.

According to PCAARDD, highly-vulnerable, vulnerable, and less-vulnerable sites are identified on the calibrated maps.

“Through these fire hazard maps, forest managers and other stakeholders will be properly guided on fire risks, especially during fire season (summer months),” it said.

Forest managers include the forest protection unit of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and local government units.

The PCAARDD publication suggests that practices causing fire ignition (like slash and re-growth of grass for grazing purposes) should not be allowed during the fire season in places adjacent to high risk areas.

Proper local ordinances and their strict implementation can help lessen the chances of fire.

“If coupled with appropriate information, education and communication strategies and replicated in other areas, these hazard maps will hopefully make every barangay (village) ready and responsive to forest fires,” the PCARRD publication concluded. — TJD, GMA News

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