Ethiopia: The Fire Emergency of March 2000
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(Fig.1-18: Global Fire Monitoring Center - GFMC; Fig. 19-21: NASA).
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Contents: Agricultural burning, drought, escaping wildfires, fire suppression, view from space
Fig.1. Traditional methods of fire use in Ethiopia: Bush and other vegetation are converted to agricultural lands, or fields and pastures are maintained by regular burning.
Fig.2. Ethiopian village South of Addis Ababa. The black colour of the fields indicate recent burning for disposing agricultural waste.
Fig.3. In traditional slash-and-burn agriculture systems of Ethiopia the forest is not cleared completely. Trees remain for providing shade and regeneration after fields are abandoned.
Fig.4. Freshly burned field
Fig.5. Banana plantation on converted forest site
Fig.6. In late February 2000 the first agricultural burnings get out of control due to the long-lasting drought conditions. Most affected are the forests which are embedded in the pasture and agricultural lands.
Fig.7. With continuing drought conditions the fires spread into the closed protected mountain forests.
Fig.8. Aerial view of burning mountain forests in Bale Region (Photo dated 4 March 2000)
Fig.9. The forests are mainly burned by surface fires. The trees are still green and standing. The white ash of burned understory vegetation can be seen from the air. The broadleaved and coniferous trees on the mountain forests are very susceptible to fires. It is expected that most of the surface-fire affected stands will die partially or completely die back within the next weeks.
Fig.10. Close up of freshly burned mountain forest.
Fig.11. The high mountain forests of Ethiopia represent a unique ecosystem of spectacular beauty and richness in biodiversity. A first fire can be seen at the left side of the aerial photograph.
Fig.12. The Ethiopian Army supports aerial fire detection and monitoring by helicopter. This view shows the detection of a forest fire on Saturday, 5 March 2000.
Fig.13. Wildfires reach high intensity at steep mountain slopes and become very destructive.
Fig.14. At altitudes of more than 3500 m the fires hit shrubby heath vegetation. Although the heathlands show some adaptations to fire, the large-scale burning is extremely dry years leads to destruction of plant and animal species.
Fig.15. The Ethiopian Army supports the 50,000 villagers and farmers in their effort to control the forest fires. These soldiers are constructing a fire break in the vicinity of an approaching wildfire.
Fig.16. There is little to none water available in the mountains for controlling fire. Donkeys and mules provide limited transport capabilities for water canisters containing up to 20 liters.
Fig.17. The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit - GTZ) coordinate the national and multinational efforts in controlling the forest fires. See update report on the GFMC Ethiopia folder between 6 and 10 March 2000).
Fig.18. Fire trucks from Addis Ababa have joined the firefighting forces in the mountains. The fire trucks transport water to places nearby the fires from where it has to be filled into canisters for mule and donkey transport.
Fig.19. View from space (Space Shuttle Mission STS 41B, February 1984) of a forest clearing burn in the Ahmar Mountains, Ethiopia. The Center Point is at 8°N-39.5°E. The space photograph documents that forest conversion burning was a common practice already at that time. However, the magnitude of the burnings in 2000 and the wildfiires escaping from the conversion burning are unprecedented. (Source: Courtesy NASA JSC. Ref. No. STS41B-41-2405)
Fig.20 View from space (Space Shuttle Mission STS 60, 7 February 1994) of an active fire, smoke column and burn scars in northern Ethiopia. The Center Point is at 14.9°N-39.9°E (Source: Courtesy NASA JSC. Ref. No. STS060-77-44)
Fig.21.View from space (Space Shuttle Mission STS032, 14 January 1990) of the forest region at ca. 10°N-40°E (Center Point of image). Source: Courtesy NASA JSC. Ref. No. STS032-101-26.