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Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Forest Fire Country Study

Context

This study on forest fires is one of six country studies prepared under the project “Addressing the risks of forest fires in South Eastern Europe”, implemented in the framework of the ENVSEC Initiative in synergy with the Themis Network, and with funding from ADA. The project explores the status quo and forest fire risks in South Eastern Europe (SEE), as well as the policy and institutional responses currently in place. It also identifies gaps and needs in the context of those responses. The SEE region is likely to be negatively affected by climate change, especially as a result of changes in water availability, regional warming and changed precipitation patterns. This means that, in all probability, future summer precipitation in SEE will be concentrated in fewer, more intense events, occurring between longer, dry periods, thus enhancing the risk of both intense soil erosion and severe forest fires.

Fire history

Forest fires in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are typically caused by stubble burning, the burning of pastures, and arson. Arson, which has emerged as a significant problem in the last 15 years, is economically driven and linked to illegal logging. In some cases, for example, forest fires have been started intentionally in order to cover up illegal logging activities. Fires have also been started in order to occupy the attention of official institutions (e.g. the Forestry Police) with fire suppression while illegal logging activities take place in other areas of the forest. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy, in the period between 2004 and 2013 there were a total of 2,465 forest fires in the country, the total burned area was 91,805.9 ha, and the total volume of burned timber 931,258.52 m3. Within the same period there were an average of 205 forest fires per year and the average size of the burned area was 9,180 ha annually. The total damage (burned timber volume plus suppression costs) caused by forest fires in this period has been estimated at around EUR 5.1 million.

Main recommendations

In general, forest fire protection measures are divided into the following categories: prevention, pre-suppression and suppression. The same approach can be used when addressing the weaknesses in the system for forest fire protection in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Regarding prevention, there is still a need for a law or legal document that harmonises the activities of the various institutions and organisations (currently regulated by several laws or legal documents). This could be achieved through the adoption of a national plan for forest fire management. Another element of prevention that needs to be improved is the organisation of forest fire prevention campaigns (public awareness raising and educational campaigns). Regarding pre-suppression, it would be important to create a group of specialised (properly trained) forest firefighters, procure specialised vehicles and tools for forest fire suppression, enhance the quality of planning documents and strengthen research capacities.

An additional problem is the presence of unexploded ordnance (UXO). There are no maps showing the precise distribution of UXO in contaminated forests and forest lands, which presents a problem during forest fire suppression activities in these areas. In addition to the creation of such maps, establishing methods for the management of these areas and defining procedures for forest fire suppression activities on contaminated lands remain a pressing challenge.

Forest Fires