Fighting wildfires in Drenthe: The fire brigade must think greener and nature organizations redder

In the future, wildfires will more often be uncontrollable and will only die out when there is no fuel. They will also lead to more frequent evacuations and affect vital infrastructure. This is what experts warn against in a report published today, which wants to send out a ‘wildfire signal’.

The researchers point out that the consequences of wildfires can be great due to the densification of the landscape. For example, nature reserves are close to agriculture and recreation. The large heather fire on the Doldersummerveld near Wateren in 2018 is not specifically mentioned in the report, but is an example of a fire with major consequences in a densely populated area.

“It was a big fire, not so much in terms of surface area, but in terms of impact. About 1,500 people in five campsites in the area were evacuated,” says Theo de Jong, wildfire management advisor in the Drenthe Safety Region (VRD) ) and fire service.

Measures after a fire at Wateren

“In general, wildfires are one of the biggest risks in Drenthe. The goal is to prevent those fires. We focus on the larger areas: Drent’s Friese Wold, Holtingterveld, Bargerveen, Fochteloërveen, Dwingelderveld and Gasterseveld. So the larger areas where there are also is a lot of recreation. Large areas with large open areas. Fire often starts in an open area. You want to prevent a fire from spreading to a forest area,” says De Jong.

Before the fire at Wateren, there was already regular consultation between VRD and nature managers, but it happens more often now. And a comprehensive evaluation has led to action. “We have doubled the capacity of the equipment from four to eight vehicles. These vehicles are equipped with a bumper monitor and can extinguish the fire while driving. This gives us more power and it is safer,” explains De Jong.

According to De Jong, ‘rooms’ are created in collaboration with the site managers. For example, an open area is bounded by a path. The berm near that path can then be kept wet in the event of a fire in the hope that it will eventually die. And in order to reduce the amount of fuel, according to VRD, it would be good to burn old heaths and grass in a controlled manner. “It used to happen in the past. We will probably do that more often again,” says De Jong.

More extinguishing water

After the fire at Wateren, the extinguishing water was also put in place. Until 2016, large underground taps were used with drinking water. And since then, wells with groundwater have been used, which have been drilled every two square kilometers. Despite major droughts, it has not yet happened that groundwater was not available.

As site manager, Staatsbosbeheer looks critically at the storage of wood waste in heath areas. And in the transition zone between heath and forest, more deciduous trees are now planted and small firs are removed there, because they burn better.

“That process was already underway because we want to move towards more biodiversity. But it also helps the fire service. We have to start thinking a little ‘redder’ and the fire service a little ‘greener’. We have to coordinate the maps so that the fire service knows which paths are available,’ says Lysander van Oossanen, forester for Staatsbosbeheer in Drents Friese Wold.

Joint effort

So a lot is already happening in Drenthe. But is that enough? “This is another call to increase the urgency. It is necessary to cooperate even more and take control. Because who is really responsible? It is not necessary to report on it, for example,” says De Jong.

“It is not to be hoped that we will experience such a fire as in 2018 again. I think we still have to consult closely with each other. We have to guarantee agreements, because it can relax again,” adds Van Oossanen .

Both indicate that wildfire prevention is everyone’s business. For example, VRD is in negotiations with nature developer Prolander to include the risk of wildfires in the design. Recreational entrepreneurs are also involved in the consultation. “We also try to promote that local fire stations and foresters know each other. Because that is an important factor in preventing a fire from becoming uncontrollable,” says De Jong. “A wildfire can also be caused by a holiday guest throwing away a butt. Fires often start where most people come. So there is still a lot to catch,” says Van Oossanen.

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