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Serbia: 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

In the period between 2004 and 2013, an annual average of 3,828 ha were burned in Serbia, of which 2,252.400 ha were forests. In terms of wildfires and forest fires, the most severe years were 2007 and 2012. In 2007 there were 5,268 wildfires that destroyed 47,868 ha; 2,021 forest fires that destroyed 32,136 ha; and 3,247 low vegetation fires that destroyed 15,732 ha. In 2012 there were 22,154 wildfires and 1,249 forest fires that destroyed 219,000 ha. Twenty-six members of the fire rescue units were injured. In the last 10 years, 66 percent of the total number of forest fires in Serbia have been started by human activities, 3 percent have had a natural origin, and 31 percent have been of unknown origin. Even in those cases where the cause of the fire is recorded as unknown, unofficially the reason behind the fire is human activity. One of the most important causes of forest fires in Serbia is agricultural burning.

Main recommendations

In general, the legal regulations and institutional set-up with respect to forest fire protection in Serbia are at a satisfactory level, but there is still room for improvement.

Early warning system

The Emergency Management Sector of the Ministry of the Interior of Serbia has compiled a risk map of natural disasters in the country. Since 2008, the State Hydrometeorological Service of Serbia (RHMS) has forecast the risk of forest fires using the Canadian Fire Weather Index method. The RHMS also has a unique hydrometeorological early warning system, integrated into the National Protection and Rescue System, as well as European and global hydrometeorological systems and programmes, which provides timely and accurate information, forecasts and warnings. However, there is still a need for an early warning system for forest fires. This could be designed on the model of the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) or the Macedonian Forest Fire Information System (MKFFIS). This kind of early warning system would serve as a basic tool for use by all institutions and organisations involved in forest fire protection in Serbia for planning and creating their activities and resources.

Special vehicles and equipment

Although all institutions involved in forest fire protection have certain resources in the form of special vehicles and equipment, they are not sufficient. Most of the vehicles are obsolete, and the newly procured vehicles are almost all designed for urban fires. Other forest fire suppression equipment (hand tools, water supply systems, personal protective equipment etc.) is either obsolete or lacking.

Trained personnel

Serbia has specially trained and equipped wildfire firefighters, and the National Training Centre for Emergency Management is responsible for their training. However, they are not sufficient, taking into consideration the fact that the forestry sector (public enterprises, national parks etc.) is responsible for forest fire protection, including fire suppression. The forestry sector is obliged to organise the initial response and to participate in fire suppression. The personnel need appropriate training for forest fire suppression.

Revision and improvement of forest fire protection plans

Although such plans exist, some are not of suitable quality. Their content is more formal than operational. The plans need to be more accurate in terms of prescribed measures and duties in accordance with the competences of the institutions. All plans must be harmonised in terms of content, quality and prescribed measures and activities.
Forest Fires