Wildfire Case History Series: Turkey Department of Forest Management and Planning

Turkey Reduces Wildfire Losses by 80%

Turkey is arguably the Middle East’s brightest economic spot with one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It also is one of the rare countries where forested areas are actually increasing.  In the last four decades, they have added over a 2.5 million acres of forested lands, and lands available for commercial wood production growing from  3.3 billion to almost 5 billion cubic feet . However, like much of the rest of the world subjected to a changing environment and rapid urbanization, wildfires have been steadily increasing.  Like many nations, Turkey has embarked upon a multi-part effort to combat the problem including prevention, reclamation of burned areas to prevent future wildfires and more effective response to wildfires once started.  A key part of this latter effort was to respond to fire starts more quickly to reduce their damage.  To do this, they explored automated methods of wildfire detection to decrease response times, lower monitoring costs and help determine location, intensity and direction of the fire more accurately.

Expanding Turkey’s Wildfire Response

Turkey’s analysis of many of the previous attempts to combat wildfires found that for every second of time lost in putting fire fighting resources in direct contact with fire sites, the fire spreads on ever increasing scale.(Their research indicated the first 15 to 20 minutes of a fire’s starting was the most important response period to limit damage.) Depending upon traditional detection and reporting means which included a network of fire spotting stations, public safety officers (such as natural resources officers and employees) and citizen reporting was found to be one of the critical paths not responding fast enough.  In looking for ways to respond more effectively, they did a review of new technologies in communication and also the ability to recognize the visual “patterns: generated by wildfire, specifically the smoke and the flame itself. They also looked for ways to:
Develop an “institutional” methodology, basically ways to build and employ better methods across their entire range of entities performing or supporting the fire prevention and suppression activity

  • Provide better coordination among these groups
  • Develop the correct skills, logistics and management of these efforts
  • Adapt quickly to changing conditions that may cause or promote fires (drought, wind, temperatures, human activity and other factors) 

In summary, they embarked upon what would become the most effective and rapid intervention in the country’s history, what eventually became known as the “Forest Fire Early Warning System,” a project implemented in 2007. The critical importance of this project was in its results: From 1937 through 2010 the average area burned per fire in Turkey was more than 18.29 hectares. Through the first 9 months of 2012 the average was down to 3.77 hectares/fire.

The Importance of Turkey’s Forests

Turkey is an ancient country with a very modern problem. According to the studies of its Department of Forest Management and Planning (DFMP), recreation activities in forested areas including national parks, natural monuments and nature preserves serve as tourism destinations for over 10 million people per year from all around the globe. In addition many of these lands contain  archaeological and cultural heritage sites which would be irreplaceable should they be damaged or destroyed.

This potential loss can not always be measured in only monetary terms. For example, reduction in the contributions from forests for the global carbon cycle, biodiversity damage (disruption of the ecological balance), water balance, degradation and damage to sources of clean water, increasing the danger of erosion (soil loss), and reduction of air pollution are some areas of tremendous benefit.  Examining the functional losses, one hectare of pine forest over a 30-40 year period absorbs tons of potentially harmful powdered organic material. Other research using a common beech tree that was 100 years old and 25 meters in length revealed that each year, 631, 450 liters of oxygen was produced from an intake of carbon dioxide (through photosynthesis).  Going further, the forests have tremendous benefits in reducing the danger of soil erosion. With the destruction of tree vegetation through wildfires (and other means), Turkey has encountered the loss of millions of hectares of productive land.

Like much of the rest of the world subjected to a changing environment and rapid urbanization, Turkey’s wildfires have been steadily increasing.  Turkey’s  DFMP has designated areas of particular concern including areas along the country’s Mediterranean ocean coastal strip, which  covers 30 million acres. This corresponds to 60% of the country's forest area.

Adopting A More Effective Wildfire Strategy

As noted above, Turkey embarked upon a search for other, quicker means. In conjunction with a research group  (that eventually became the technology now used by our company),  they identified an approach of using a network of high performance security cameras mounted on towers or other available locations with a line of sight across the areas to be protected. The plan was to feed the visual output of these general purpose devices into complex analytical software that could detect foreground images of flames and smoke against varying background conditions including bright sunlight, night sky, clouds and fog.

The initial pilot effort that resulted was able to detect incipient fires within a radius of 15-20 km from the tower's location within 15-25 seconds. The pattern recognition software was used to process images and distinguish target elements such as normal colors and patterns like vegetation that occurred in the wildland area. The resulting digital images were transferred via digital wireless networks from the towers to a monitoring center many miles away in the heart of one of Turkey’s urban areas.  While the high-resolution images obtained in this manner could be monitored directly, control software was later added which allowed non-human monitoring and alarms to be issued automatically if a fire was detected. This resulted in better fire fighting asset location and deployment and more accurate and timely dispatching methods.

From Pilot to Full-Scale Protection

The initial pilot consisted of only five cameras mounted on three detection towers monitoring a total of 210,000 acres of forest land. In the first period of operation, these cameras were able to detect 100% of the fires which occurred naturally in these areas within a 30 second window. Based upon this success, over the next five years, the number of cameras was increased to over 150. This resulted in a perfect record of detection of nearly 250 fires, while actually reducing the average detection time to 15 seconds. The chart below summarizes these results.

Based on these results, Turkey has its “Forest Fire Early Warning System" in more areas vulnerable to forest fires. One of the key benefits has been to prevent new fires in fragile areas recovering from previous burns. They have also added infrared imaging as a post suppression strategy to prevent flare ups in areas that have just gone through fire suppression efforts. They have expanded the network taking advantage of more communication protocols including “cell phone” networks such as GSM GSM / GPRS standards. They also plan forest fire simulation studies, the aim of which is to obtain initial data to help extinguish fires faster. Simulation of wind, terrain, slope, temperature, humidity, and vegetation cover.  All these data are processed in a simulation simulation which predicts direction, fire spread brace and other valuable information necessary for decision support They hope these studies will create overall models to assist in the rapid detection and extinguishing of wild land fires.

The program has helped Turkey better protect their forested resources within their fire containment resource pool than just about any other nation within the European Union.  Based upon the measures described above, it has provided a positive “return on investment” and a basis for continuing improvements in the cost to benefit ratio. Officials hope their case can also serve as an international model for more effective conservation of forests as a source of biological diversity, , the fight against climate change  and maintaining clean air/ water resources.

Note: Wildland Detection Systems acquired the worldwide rights to the technology late in 2009 and has continued its improvement and deployment

Using this technology as a core, WDS and its parent, Delacom Detection Systems (www.delacomdetection.com) offer unique solutions for the detection of explosive, toxic and greenhouse gasses, intrusion, suspicious objects, industrial smoke and fire and pipeline protection

The technology is protected by multiple patents pending and awarded.