Mon, May 20, 2002 - Page 4 News List

Forestry officials seek measures to prevent fires

LISHAN BLAZE After witnessing 127 hectares burn, officials say they've learned some lessons about fuel management

By Tsai Ting-i  /  STAFF REPORTER

After Taiwan's worst forest fire in eight years, scholars, government officials and farmers have concluded that improved forest-fuel management would be the best way to prevent a repeat of such a blaze.

Fuel-management practices include planting different kinds of vegetation and removing fallen leaves more frequently.

The fire, which burned around Lishan (梨山), Taichung County, was completely extinguished by 5:45am on Friday, after more than 1,300 firefighters spent 120 consecutive hours battling the blaze.

The fire destroyed a total of 127 hectares of forest -- worth an estimated NT$16.86 million -- which would take 50 years to recover, according to the Forestry Bureau.

Chiou Chyi-rong (邱祈榮), professor at National Taiwan University's Forestry Department, said that the nation didn't realize the importance of fuel management until the Lishan forest fire, which took place in February last year.

"In the past decades, we thought we only needed to plant trees without doing anything further. However, removing the fuel produced by those trees [fallen leaves] is actually quite important, otherwise forests remove that fuel their own way -- through huge fires," Chiou said.

Last week's fire was particularly ferocious because of the oily Pinus taiwanensis Hayata (二葉松), whose leaves are slow to decay. The fire burned about 8,160m3 of this kind of plant. According to Chiou, nobody had cleared its fallen leaves over the past few decades.

Pinus taiwanensis Hayata is suited to the area's soil and climate.

Chiou said that, in addition to removing fallen leaves, officials could plant broadleaf trees whose leaves are full of moisture and decay more rapidly. Chiou added that such trees would help mitigate the damage caused by fires as well as prevent fires from sparking in the first place.

Lu Shih-jen (呂仕仁), a farmer from Lishan, echoed Chiou's suggestion, saying that government officials should think about ecological balance instead of commercial concerns when planting.

"We planted the pinus taiwan-ensis Hayata for pulp and paper production, but how to manage forests with ecological balance in mind is more important now," Lu said.

"Planting broadleaf trees would improve the landscape and provide more sources of sustenance for the forest's fish [the Formosan landlocked salmon]," Lu said.

The Forestry Bureau hasn't yet reached a decision on how to restore the burned-out area. But the bureau's secretary-general, Yu Chun-jung (余春榮), said he will heed experts' advice.

"The lesson we learned from this fire is that we should plant some other kinds of plants to minimize the damage caused by fire. We plan to plant broadleaf trees, such as schima superba var kankoensis and michelia formosana, for the recovery in the coming months," Yu said.

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