Forest Fires: When Humans Wreak Their Worst on Nature

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Forest Fires: When Humans Wreak Their Worst on Nature

Enormous damage has been done by the recent frequent forest fires. The series of wildfires has continued over a period of 50 days in Kangwon Province - dry weather being the most obvious culprit.

However, in my opinion, the drought cannot be entirely to blame. The recent forest fires are not natural disasters but are caused by man.

It is alleged by both local authorities and residents that the fire which broke out in Kosong county, Kangwon province on April 7, was ignited by sparks from the incinerator of a nearby army base carried by strong winds into the neighoring field.

The fires that blazed over 3,000 hectares of the same area four years ago were also found to have been caused by human negligence. The fires started when soldiers were disposing of unexploded ordnance. The residents of the Yongdong area are making urgent demands for a system that can rapidly quench any fires breaking out in the rugged mountainous area.

The Bureau of Forestry has only two or three helicopters available to fight fires in high risk forests near densely populated areas. With so few resources, it is virtually impossible to tackle simultaneous fires in different locations.

If the helicopters are based in such areas as Kimpo and Wonju, it takes between 30 minutes and an hour for them to reach the fire. The chance to extinguish the fire in its infancy is lost. The residents are therefore insisting that a permanent air base in the Yongdong area is needed to protect their forest effectively.

Also, preventive measures taken by local authorities are not sufficient. There is no record of a single fine being imposed by authorities in Seoul, Kwangju, and Taejon and the provinces last year upon those who violated laws prohibiting entry to certain mountainous areas or committing other offenses. And due to the restructuring of government, many forestry jobs have been lost.

The punishment given to perpetrators of forest fires has also been very light. Last year alone, no suspects were apprehended in 187 cases, more than half the forest fires. In some 80 cases, charges were made but no arrests followed. Small acts of carelessness can have disastrous consequences for both property and the ecosystem. The real tragedy is that we have not yet begun to appreciate the seriousness of the problem.

'A stitch in time saves nine'; let us address the problem before the next disaster.

by Choi Joon-ho

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