Forest fires a burning issue

August 12, 1999

While the widespread, destructive fire ravaged Tyresta national park, close to Stockholm last week, Swedish environmental protection authorities allowed the burning of 120 hectares of forest in the prospective nature reserve Helvetesbrännan. The purpose was to encourage the regeneration of forest fire-dependent flora and fauna.

This was probably the biggest managed wildland fire ever in Europe with an environmental perspective. Helvetesbrännan consists of large inaccessible forest in northern Sweden on the border between the counties of Jämtland and Västernorrland. Spontaneous fires have affected the area before, hence its name "Hell Burning". The Swedish EPA and Västernorrland County Administrative Board arranged the current fire.

This time burning was limited to basal ground cover without reaching the tree crowns. It will not become evident until next summer how vegetation and insect life have reacted to the fire. Swedish EPA hopes that some of the more than 30 red-listed insects, e.g. sooty black flatheaded borer, the carabid beetle Agonum quadripunctatum, and the longhorn beetle Acmaeops septentrionis will be attracted to the incinerated area. In turn, several species of threatened woodpeckers feed on these insects. Two pyrophylous species of cranesbill, Geranium bohemicum and Geranium lanuginosum, are also included on the Swedish red list.

"The successful burning in Helvetesbrännan shows that it is quite possible to use prescribed fire as a conservation tool in nature reserves", comments principal administrative officer Anders Arnell at Swedish EPA. Strict fire-breaks, proper surveillance, water bombing by helicopter and experienced fire-fighters contributed to keeping the fire within the planned area.

"We have tried to burn this area since 1997, but then it was too dry and the rescue service did not allow it, and last summer it was too wet. We will now continue with follow up and assessments in view of future initiatives in other reserves", Anders Arnell says.

The practical work was carried out by fire-fighting staff from the County Forestry Board. They were helped by Wildland Fire, a Canadian company specialised in forest fires, which has worked together with timber companies on other managed conservation fires during the summer.

Swedish Environmental Protection Agency

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