Montenegro: Forest Fire Country Study
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.
Due to the country's geographical position in the Mediterranean region, and to the increasing negative impacts of climate change, Montenegrin forests are especially vulnerable. Fires are a constant threat to forests and forest lands in Montenegro. Along with their increased frequency, forest fires are becoming larger in scale and are threatening settlements and human lives as well as forests and agricultural land. During the past 10 years there have been around 800 large forest fires in Montenegro, and more than 18,000 ha of forests and over 800,000 m3 of wood mass have been damaged or destroyed. The greatest risk is to forests located in the coastal and central regions, where high air temperatures during the summer period and the typical vegetation create the necessary preconditions for forest fires to start. July and August are critical in terms of the occurrence of fires (very low level of precipitation, or often no precipitation), as are the months of February and March (in the case of dry and warmer winters). Fires usually break out between 10:00 and 18:00, coinciding with daily human activities. The main causes of forest fires in Montenegro are very similar to those in other countries in the region: stubble burning in fields, the burning of pastures, and arson. The occurrence of deliberate arson is particularly disturbing: fires may be started due to the fact that, following a fire, non-wood forest products such as mushrooms, raspberries and blackberries grow more rapidly, and grazing land is also more productive. The annual average burnt area in the period between 2003 and 2012 was 1,880 ha, while the annual average number of fires was around 80. The total damage caused during this period has been estimated at over EUR 6 million.
A law on fire protection should be adopted, as there is no such law at present. Some issues related to forest fire management are regulated in existing laws (e.g. the Law on Forests and the Law on Protection and Rescue), but this is not sufficient. There are no regulations on special equipment for forest fire suppression, personal protective equipment, volunteers etc. The new law on fire protection should regulate the formation, organisation and activities of firefighting units, fire protection associations and volunteers, as well as fire suppression and the conditions for producing, using and maintaining appliances, equipment and means for fire suppression. The lack of such a law causes problems for various institutions (the Forest Administration, the Directorate for Protection and Rescue, local self-government units etc.) in regulating forest fires and harmonising joint activities. The training of firefighting personnel is an issue of the utmost importance. In Montenegro there are 582 local rescuers (who also serve as forest firefighters), but only 117 of them have completed a specialised course on wildfires in the framework of projects and international training programmes. According to the Law on Protection and Rescue, all rescuers are obliged to complete basic training, but because of problems with the establishment of the National Training Centre, most rescuers have not completed such training. Some fire management training has been organised in neighbouring countries, thus Montenegro might make use of identical training materials and approaches. There is also a need for a rulebook on the preparation of an annual forest fire operational plan, as well as a rulebook for special measures for forest fire protection (both intended for the forestry sector).