Forest Fires in Georgia: CENN Creates Geo Statistic Database of Forest Fires

Forest fires are a global hazard that can result in enormous environmental damage and economic losses and which continue to present a major risk in many countries, including Georgia.

In Georgia, forest fires damage hundreds of hectares of forest almost every year, and so the creation of a comprehensive and accurate database on fires, providing information on fire sites and their impact on the environment, was seen as essential.

CENN, a non-governmental organization working to protect the environment by fostering sustainable development throughout the South Caucasus, has created the Geo Statistic Database of Forest Fires. The research conducted by CENN was aimed at identifying the locations where wildfires have occurred since 2001, giving various agencies, NGOs and universities in Georgia the opportunity to conduct further studies in the mentioned direction and reduce the risks of wildfires in future.

The creation of the Geo Statistic Database of Forest Fires was implemented, by CENN in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection and the World Resources Institute within the framework of the project Global Forest Watch (GFW) Georgia, funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

The information was processed in a geographic information system (GIS), for which the following sources were used:

Satellite data on plant growth decline

ESA satellite photos

NASA (MODIS and VIRIS) heat sensor

Google satellite images

Various media platforms

As a result of analyzing the information bases and processing satellite data, the area of each wildfire and date of fire occurrence (year, month, number) were identified, and throughout Georgia, burnt vegetation cover was classified into the following: Fires in the field; Fires on agricultural land; Fires in the forest; Tree species growing in the area of wildfire.

According to the processed data, forest fires in Georgia occur intensively and harm biodiversity, human beings, and the country's economy.

The study conducted by CENN shows that in most cases, forest fires are caused by human involvement, such as summer holidaymakers picnicking in the woods and starting campfires which then spread to trees rapidly.

A study of the distribution of forest fires in Georgia shows that the areas of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Kvemo Kartli, Kakheti and Guria were affected by frequent fires, which constitutes 88.3% of total forest fires in Georgia. There is also a relatively small territory affected by fires in the Ajara, Racha-Lechkhumi, Kvemo Svaneti and Abkhazia regions of Georgia.

The study identified fire sites and the impact of fires on the environment throughout Georgia revealed that since 2001, forest fires have occurred at the following locations: Kakheti, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Kvemo Kartli, Tabatskuri Lake, Vashlovani, Atskuri, Chobiskhevi, and Sadgeri. Accordingly, the relevant conclusions and reports were prepared.

Based on data obtained from NASA satellites (Modis and Viris), fire-affected areas were identified, from which several sites were selected to conduct field surveys by the relevant specialists (geologists and foresters).

Assessment of fire-affected area – Samtskhe-Javakheti

According to the research conducted in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, the fire which occurred in the surroundings of the village Atskuri in August 2010 damaged approximately 268 hectares of forest.

The area was covered with coniferous species, mostly spruce. In the ninth year since the fire, a natural renewal of trees has been identified, however the coniferous species in the area were replaced with deciduous groves.

On June 29, 2019, a working trip was conducted out in the village of Chobiskhevi, in the fire-affected area adjacent to "Crane Lake", where, in 2009, three hectares of forest was damaged by fire. Considering the existence of natural lakes in the area, the place is an attractive one for holidaymakers and it is likely that the fire was manly caused by human negligence.

Dropping a single cigarette in the grass or lighting a campfire in an inappropriate location are both major cause of starting fires.

Autumn and spring are also associated with fires, as dry leaves and grass on the ground are abundant, which, as a result of direct sunlight, can ignite and lead to fires spreading.

Assessment of fire-affected area – Kvemo Kartli

According to the research conducted in Kvemo Kartli region, the March 2008 fire damaged about 428 ha of land. The area was covered with deciduous species, mainly Georgian Oak.

The main reason for the fire was human negligence.

Assessment of fire-affected area – Mtskheta-Mtianeti

In April 2012, a fire in the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region damaged about 16 ha of land. Deciduous species were burnt in the area and while most of the tree species survived, the vegetation cover was destroyed.

Assessment of fire-affected area – Kakheti

The March 2008 fire damaged about 60 hectares of land covered with deciduous species in Georgia’s Kakheti region.

The study shows that in both cases, the fires were of low origin and in some parts of the forest they became higher as a result of dried trees providing fuel to the flames.

Analysis of Fire Impact on the Geological Environment

An analysis of the impact of the fires on the geological environment and the results of damaged forest on geodynamic processes was carried out in the Akhmeta and Tianeti municipalities of the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region.

The reports prepared by geologists and images captured by drone in both cases show that landslides occurred in the mentioned areas in the aftermath of fires. Landsides had not been reported in any research conducted by various agencies prior to the fires.

Forest cover has the function of controlling the atmospheric precipitation and subsequent evaporation which contributes to soil moisture: vegetation absorbs sunlight more effectively than bare soil. After the loss of forest and vegetation cover, much of the water that was to be evaporated from the leaves fell into the soil, which accelerated the process of erosion and contributed to the risks of landslide.

Based on the above information, it can be assumed that the development of the landslide processes and their subsequent acceleration were caused by the fires. According to the report, the causes of fire vary and, in most cases, come as the result of human negligence. As such, any preventive measure will be ineffective unless people themselves start to focus on protecting the environment.

Specialists working on the study give a few essential recommendations to reduce the risk of starting a fire:

Do not drop lit cigarettes;

Do not leave a campfire burning in the woods;

Do not burn grass or rubbish in the street, in the fields and in the vicinity of woodland;

Do not light a fire near woodland, dried grass or wood;

Do not leave garbage in the woods as there is a danger of self-ignition.

If you are caught in a fire, cover your face and hands with a wet towel or cloth until the fire is completely extinguished; additionally, head to the nearest river, lake or spring.


15 August 2019 16:42