Fire on slopes travels four times faster than fire on flat ground, according to studies.
And battling forest fires in a mountainous country like Bhutan becomes a daunting task especially at areas where there is no road access. Steep mountainous terrain coupled with lack of effective fire fighting tools make it even more difficult for the fire fighters.
Water bag and locally available tools are the only effective equipment.
Apart from prevention programs, the Forest Fire Management Section (FFMS) under the Forest Protection and Enforcement Division are into procuring most effective hand tools to be distributed in the field.
“The fire suppression in difficult topography is very challenging since we heavily depend on manpower,” said head of FFMS, Bap Tandin Dorji.
He added that besides effective tools, public and armed forces support is very crucial as the forestry personnel under the department alone cannot do much when battling a fire on the mountains.
“Conventionally, fire fighters use tree branches to douse fires and this is detrimental from the environmental point of view,” he said adding that it is also scatters the burning embers which poses risk of fire in another spot.
“Although most wild fire outbreaks in the country occur within the road network because of human activity, fire sparks off in other inaccessible areas,too” Chief Forestry Officer, Sonam Wangchuk said.
“However where there is no motorable road, it takes quite a long time for us to reach the fire spot in the first place. By the time the fire fighters reach the spot, fire would already have spread in larger areas and gained intensity.”
Bap Tandin Dorji said that “the recent fire in Namselling took us three days to suppress which if it had been within the road accessibility would have been doused within one day.”
The most effective tools that has been recommended should be bought are Fedco Back Pack water pump which can hold 20lts of water. The water from the back pack can cool down the fire which is then suppressed further with the use flapper.
Besides, the section is also trying to purchase power chainsaw; Pulaski axe which is a dual-headed implement used both as a chopping axe and as a ‘grub-hoe’-style pickaxe for aggressive digging especially in rough, rocky terrain.
The fire that occurs in blue pine and other conifer zones, fuelled by strong winds often travel about six meters from one tree to another. In such cases, power chainsaw can be useful and handy to cut down trees and create a small clearing to create a fire break.
“Other fire fighting tools and equipment such as knives, knapsacks, water pumps, flappers, racks, spades and axe are some of the equipment which is effective,” added Divisional Forestry Officer Phento Tshering.