Don’t let wildfire engulf our land

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Dry climate and strong winds are exacerbating the raging wildfire across Mongolia. This year’s wildfire season has made a dramatic start, destroying over 1,100 hectares of forest within the first four months of 2019 in Mongolia. Globally, there have been major fire reports in France and elsewhere.

There have been 34 cases of fire in 24 soums of 10 provinces, mostly in Bulgan, Dornod, Darkhan, Khuvsgul and Khentii provinces over the last four months, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). The agency says that due to these fires, approximately 1,100 hectares of forests and 211,800 hectares of fields were burned down. The number of burned homes and apartments increased to 555 in the first quarter of 2019, compared to 451 in the first quarter of last year.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) held a press conference last week after a dramatic rise in the occurrence of fire-related incidents was observed. NEMA officials stressed the need for the public to handle fire more carefully as 70 percent of all fires in Mongolia are caused due to negligence.

“The third case of forest fire occurred last week at Bogd Khaan Mountain. In general, we’re getting many fire reports from Zuslan area. Most fire reports made to the Ulaanbaatar Emergency Department were caused due to burning of yellow grass. So far, we’ve recorded around 200 of this type of reports,” stated Head of Fire Prevention Division of NEMA Colonel D.Munkhsaikhan on April 21.

On April 13, wildfire broke out in Bogd Khaan Mountain and was extinguished within an hour-and-a-half with the help of 65 firefighters and 30 volunteers. Even with quick countermeasures, the wildfire destroyed around six hectares of the protected zone.

On April 14, six houses were burned down in Shadivlan Zuslan, located in 19th khoroo of Sukhbaatar District. Through an investigation, officials found that local residents were trying to burn yellow and dried grass but couldn’t control it due to strong winds and dry weather, which fueled the fire. This incident took place only a week after 10 houses and two gers were destroyed in a fire just a few kilometers away from the Zuslan area.

On April 22, the police arrested two men and a woman who tried to flee after setting fire in Shiliin Bogd Mountain, located 60 kilometers northeast from Dariganga soum in Sukhbaatar Province. The three confessed they went hiking to recover their spirit last Saturday, but couldn’t put out a camp fire they made and tried to escape. Strong winds fanned the fire, causing it to scorch more than 10,000 trees in the mountain around 5:20 p.m. The culprits were soon caught by the police as their car tire was punctured.

Central and eastern regions most at risk of wildfire

Studies suggest that at present, Khuvsgul, Zavkhan and Uvs provinces are facing medium level of dryness alerting some risk of wildfires; Ulaanbaatar, Orkhon, Tuv, Arkhangai, Uvs, Zavkhan and Khuvsgul provines are facing high level of dryness alerting high risk of wildfires; while Bulgan, Darkhan-Uul, Selenge, Khentii, Sukhbaatar and Dornod provinces are facing extremely high level of dryness, which is prompting emergency agencies to take immediate action. 

The highest number of fire accidents occur from April to May, at least 80 percent of annually recorded fire, according to statistics. On the other hand, 15 to 18 percent of fires break out in September and October due to features of climate and vegetation. 

People living in or traveling to these regions are advised to make sure they completely put out any fire they cause to prevent large-scale fires. 

Over the last 15 years, 3,520 cases of disaster and accidents occurred each year on average, killing over 200 people and inflicting a damage of approximately 80 billion MNT. Among these incidents, 84 percent were forest fires, or wildfires. Climate change, population growth and urbanization have led to a rise in the occurrence of fire accidents and expanded their scope, as noted by specialists.

They underlined Ulaanbaatar is at a high risk of fire because of its high population density.
NEMA cautioned factories and apartment complexes to enhance their fire prevention work, especially if they don’t want to repeat the destructive fire incidents that happened at Gobi Cashmere factory in 2017, Narantuul Market in 2016 and Shangri-La Hotel in 2014.

Best solution is prevention

Forests are one of Earth’s most valuable resources that serve as habitats to the majority of all land animals and plants, playing a key role in maintaining biodiversity. It also maintains water quality, regulates surface and groundwater flows, and help to mitigate the risks of water-related disasters in addition to providing fresh air. 

Without forests, the whole world would be in jeopardy which is why it’s crucial to protect it. Mongolia loses thousands of hectares of its forests due to fire every year. Last year, there were 77 instances of wildfire in the country. Most of these cases were caused by human activity, which means that it can be prevented.
Prevention is said to be the best method for protecting people, forests, lands and properties from fire.

Here are some tips on how to prevent wildfires and what to do if you're caught in the middle of one.

How to Prevent a Wildfire

Contact 101, your local fire department, or the park service if you notice an unattended or out-of-control fire.
Never leave a fire unattended. Completely extinguish the fire —by dousing it with water and stirring the ashes until cold — before sleeping or leaving the campsite.

When camping, take care when using and fueling lanterns, stoves, and heaters. Make sure lighting and heating devices are cool before refueling. Avoid spilling flammable liquids and store fuel away from appliances.

Do not discard cigarettes, matches, and smoking materials from moving vehicles, or anywhere on park grounds. Be certain to completely extinguish cigarettes before disposing them.

Follow local ordinances when burning yard waste. Avoid backyard burning in windy conditions, and keep a shovel, water, and fire retardant nearby to keep fires in check. Remove all flammables from yard when burning.

Evacuation tips

If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.

Know your evacuation route ahead of time and prepare an evacuation checklist and emergency supplies.
Wear protective clothing and footwear to protect yourself from flying sparks and ashes

Before You Leave, Prepare Your House

Remove combustibles, including firewood, yard waste, barbecue grills, and fuel cans, from your yard.
Close all windows, vents, and doors to prevent a draft.
Shut off natural gas, propane, or fuel oil supplies.
Fill any large vessels — pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, or tubs — with water to slow or discourage fire.

If Caught in a Wildfire

Don't try to outrun the blaze. Instead, look for a body of water such as a pond or river to crouch in.
If there is no water nearby, find a depressed, cleared area with little vegetation, lie low to the ground, and cover your body with wet clothing, a blanket, or soil. Stay low and covered until the fire passes.
Protect your lungs by breathing air closest to the ground, through a wet cloth, if possible, to avoid inhaling smoke.

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan