About forest and fires

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An extensive heat wave has bothered Southern Europe for more than a month.  It has dried the woods and caused uncontrolled forest fires especially in Spain. Dozens of people have been evacuated because of them.

It seems that the warm and dry spell has finally reached Finland as well. If it lasts, it will cause a high risk of forest fires. The Finnish Meteorological Institute issues forest fire warning if necessary. The warnings are specific for each province. When a forest fire warning is in force, it is forbidden to kindle an open fire in or near a forest. Such forest fire warnings prevented Midsummer bonfires this year in many places as you might recall. Take a note of the warnings when you are exercising your everyman’s rights!

Last July the forest fires is northwestern Russia raged for weeks. The smoke disturbed people also on the Finnish side of the border.  As over 70% of the Finnish land area is forested, the fires are a major concern. A lot is done to prevent fires – however, raking (despite Donald Trump’s claims) isn’t included in fire prevention measures.

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Satellites scan the woods constantly and report fire brigades automatically if a fire is detected. In addition, forests are observed from the air as fire detection flights take place once or twice a day depending on the forest fire index value. If the fire sparks somewhere, it doesn’t usually spread far. Large scale fires are often prevented by lakes and rivers, and of course roads.

Despite the control measures, forest fires are common in Finland especially after long warm and dry periods in the summer. Unfortunately, many fires are caused by people. Occasionally, the forest management machinery sparks the fire, sometimes campers cause fires, and they can ignite also from cigarette stubs being thrown into the woods. Thunder related lightnings can also set fires.

Not all woods are equally prone to fires. Pine-dominated forests are the most susceptible to fires as pines tend to grow on rocky and sandy soils which dry easily. Pines however, have evolved high resistance to fires. The bark is thick and it protects the wood surprisingly efficiently. Thus, old pines may have marks of previous fires which they have survived.

One doesn’t think about it often, but fires are a natural renewing force in woodlands. Statistically, dry pine forests burn down more often than spruce-dominated moister forest types. The long history of forest fires has shaped the ecosystem so that some species have specialized on living in newly burnt forests. Some beetles can smell smoke and orientate themselves to sites where the land has hardly cooled down. Many such species are endangered nowadays. The Natural Resources Institute organizes controlled restoration fires in state owned forests every summer in order to provide suitable living conditions to these endangered insects.

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