Scandinavia

Somewhat limited fire statistics are available for this region, with Finland having the only continuous records from 1952. Fire statistics from Sweden are available only from 1950 to 1980 and post-1982, while Norwegian fire statistics have been recorded only since 1980. In general, considering Scandinavia as a whole, fire incidence is relatively constant, with ~4000 fires occurring annually. Area burned also varies slightly, averaging under 5000 hectares a year. Unlike Canada, the Russia, and Alaska, Scandinavian countries do not appear to experience large forest fires. As mentioned earlier, this is likely attributable to the high degree of accessibility in these smaller countries as a result of intensive forest utilisation and management. In addition, lightning fires, a higher proportion of which tend to occur in remote areas, are not a major factor in Scandinavia where they account for less than 10% of all fires.

1.3 Russia

Although northern Russia and Siberia have long been noted as areas where extensive forest fire activity is common (Lutz 1956), no documented statistics were ever published by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) which would allow accurate quantification of the magnitude of the problem in that country. Documentary accounts from the early 1900s describe enormous forest fire losses covering thousands of square kilometres in Siberia, and giving the impression that it was difficult to find areas where evidence of recent fire was not present. In the particularly dry year of 1915, an estimated total of 14,000,000 hectares burned in Siberia (Shostakovitch 1925). Periodically some qualitative accounts of the role of fire in the Siberian forests were published, but these contained only partial statistics at best, which did not permit even rudimentary analysis. 1987 was a particularly severe fire year in Inner Mongolia and Siberia. The well-publicised Great China Fire burned in excess of one million hectares near the China-USSR border during the early spring of that year (Stocks and Jin 1988, Cahoon et al. 1991). NOAA AVHRR satellite imagery revealed that a much larger area was burning in central Siberia during the same period. Analysis of this low-resolution imagery revealed 40-50 fires, ranging in size from 20,000 to 2,000,000 hectares, had burned over a total of approximately 10,000,000 hectares in this part of the USSR (Cahoon et al. 1994). While the absolute accuracy of this estimate may be questionable due to the coarse resolution of the NOAA imagery, it still provides, in the absence of any official statistics from the USSR, a reasonable indication of the enormous forest fire problems that existed in this region in 1987, and is supported in a recent paper by Rylkov (1996). While fire activity in the USSR can be assumed to fluctuate dramatically from year to year, as is the case in other countries, the 1987 scenario is strong evidence that a major proportion of the earth's large boreal forest fires occur in Siberia.

With the dissolution of the USSR in the early 1990s, western and Russian fire managers and scientists began to work cooperatively, and this has resulted in a more accurate representation of forest fire impacts in Russia Korovin (1996) presented fire statistics for the 1956-1990 period, which indicated that, on average, 16,500 fires burned over ~650,000 hectares annually in the former USSR, with very little annual variation. Russian fire managers agree, however, that these numbers are a gross underestimation of the actual extent of boreal fire in Russia, primarily due to an incomplete reporting structure that emphasised under-reporting actual fire statistics. Recent fire statistics for Russia (1990-96) show an annual average of ~22,000 fires burning approximately 1.12 million hectares. While these statistics still appear to be largely incomplete, new NOAA AVHRR satellite down links established in Siberia are expected to solve this problem. All of Russia, including remote regions previously unmonitored, will be covered under the new satellite-based system of fire detection and monitoring.

The strongly continental climate of Russia, and in particular Siberia, produces fire weather and fire danger conditions that match ,or even exceed, those observed in Canada and Alaska (Stocks and Lynham 1996) over a much larger land base. It seems likely then that Russian fire statistics should show significant annual variation in area burned, with periodic major fire years, as is the case in both Canada and Alaska. Given the importance of Russia's boreal forests in a global context, it is critical that an accurate representation of fire activity in that major part of the boreal zone be obtained, and extensive satellite monitoring should provide that information in the near future.

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