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Timber and Forestry
Monday, December 1, 2008

Recent forest fires in South Africa destroyed close to 10% of our timber reserves,” says Chris Austin, a Director of Working on Fire (WoF) and CEO of Forest Fire Association Operations. “Once a fire starts it is fuelled by the undergrowth.” This so-called ‘fuel load’ builds up on the forest floor; and the idea is to reduce the risk of runaway fires by conducting controlled burns to minimise this organic debris.

However, a ground operation is not without its risks. It is also slow going, with a relatively short window period each year if the trees are not to be unduly damaged. That is all about to change following trials of a new aerial incendiary capsule recently brought to South Africa by the government-funded WoF programme in partnership with Komatiland Forests.
The ‘fire starter’ device is dropped with great precision from helicopters or fixed wing aircraft to ignite prescribed burns in forests.
  “Using the new airborne incendiary system,” says Ben Bothma, Fire Risk Manager of Komatiland Forests, “will allow us to extend the prescribed burn programme from an average of 50 hectares a day to more than 1 000ha.”
Last year Komatiland Forests burned just over 8 000ha from ground operations, but the next step, controlled aerial ignition, will improve productivity, and bring costs down. It is also safer for the company’s employees.
The new system is called the Raindance Aerial Incendiary Device, or R2. It was developed in Western Australia by fire management experts in search of an effective and reliable way of implementing aerial ignitions in forests. It has been used with great success there and in the United States with more than two million capsules being dropped annually.
The R2 is a capsule of potassium permanganate that is targeted under the ‘canopy’ of trees in a forest. The chemicals combine to create a flame that ignites fires.
“We can drop pellets with accuracy at 20 to 30 metre intervals over the area set aside for a prescribed burn in a matter of minutes. Using traditional methods with hand-held igniters would take hours, if not days, to burn the same area.
“This incendiary device will allow managers to complete prescribed burns over larger areas in much shorter periods of time — the few days a year when there is the right temperature, moisture, and humidity to ignite a fire that is controllable and the fuel load burn does not harm the living trees,” adds Bothma
Late November Komatiland Forests and Working on Fire were to embark on a series of large-scale field trials to develop safe and effective operating procedures for South African conditions.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:21.11 1st December, 2008
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