GB No. 1(16)/95
In the December 92 issue of Zielone Brygady I described the greatest post-war tragedy in Polish forests. It was the forest fire near Kuźnia Raciborska in August and September 1992. Lets see what has been done to restore that forest.
have to be cut down in the course of time in order to make room for oaks, beeches and pines. The quality of part of the soil is so poor that only pines will grow there. However, other trees will be planted, too, but spruce, which is more flammable and vulnerable to industrial emissions than pine. In 30 years time a new, more resistant forest will have grown here.
The fire destroyed 9060 ha of forest in forest divisions of Rudy Raciborskie, Rudzieniec and Kędzierzyn, which are administered by Regional Headquarters of State Forests (RDLP - Regionalna Dyrekcja Lasów Państwowych) in Katowice. Flames could spread easily because there had been a period of dry weather, strong winds and plenty of dry biomass. Fire-fighting, which lasted for many days, did not save much but confined the fire, for example, Blachownia Chemical Plant was not jeopardized. The site of the fire was 32km long and almost 20km wide. The fire caused serious damage because it not only destroyed trees, undergrowth, leaf mould and top soil but killed over 150 deer as well. After it had been put out the remains were a vast desert marked with tree stubs and soil covered with a layer of ash, which was several cm thick in some places.
Nearly 90O,DOOm3 of wood had to be removed because of the fire while the annual timber harvesting in RDLP of Katowice was 1,500,000m3. In this connection tree felling in other forest divisions was reduced. In the autumn of 1992 and winter of 1993 the area was cleaned by foresters, woodcutters and transport workers. Thick wood was gained and treated with heavy equipment, both local and from abroad. It was recognized that neither woodwaste nor the remains of destroyed greenwood could be burned because the air was too polluted. The crumbling was performed with special American equipment and tanks, which had mills from a local factory Bumar-Łabędy instead of barrels. The wood material will be crushed and pressed into soil and will turn into humus.
It should be done in haste because two dangerous pest have appeared.
The site of the fire started to become overgrown with firm-rooted reed grassof little value, which is highly flammable when dried. Numerous self-seedlings, birches and pines were observed. It was the evidence that the flora of that area began to reanimate but regular economy should be started. Most self-seedlings were left alone and afforestration was started in the rest of the site. In 1993 larches and birches were planted on about 1000 ha Unfortunately, there was drought at the time so the trees became established only in 30%. In 1994 another 1000 ha were reafforestrated, with 9D% of seedlings established, thanks to humid spring. Meanwhile, self-seedlings of birch had grown up to 1m. They will have to cut the course of the time to make room for oaks, beeches and pines. The quality of part of the soil is so poor that only pines will grow there. However, other threes will be planted, too, but spruce, which is more flammable and vulnerable to industrial emissions than pine. In 30 years time a new, more resistant forest will have grown here.
The new forest will be protected against fires by almost 100 m long greenbelts, which will be situated about every 1,600m on both sides of roads. The roads will be laid out transversely to predominate (west) winds. The protection zone will consist of some parts. Next to the road will be a 10m long shrub belt with roses, jasmines, bird cherries, goldenrain trees and snow berries. Then there will be a 10m long belt of grass, which will be able to grow on barren wastelands. The next, 70m long belt will consist of decidous trees, including horse-chest-nuts, which provide food for wild boars. Apart from wide belts of the 1st degree, some narrow belts of 2nd degree will be arranged. The 1,600m long forest section will be divided into halves. So far. 80 km of 1st degree protection belts have been created along the forests.
Reforesting nursery, which is being developed intensively, will produce 3,000,000 and more seedlings a year. The seedlings will develop in special boxes. They will be sown and sprinkled automatically. The soil in which they will grow, will be treated with suitable fungi, which are able to accelerate their growth and increase their resistance. Reforesting nursery investments will cost about 7,500,000 zl. So far forest divisions have received help from Regional Fund of Environmental Protection and Water Economy (WFOŚiGW - Wojewódzki Fundusz Ochrony Środowiska i Gospodarki Wodnej) in Katowice and they rely on future help in the form of a credit from World Bank (in Życie Gospodarcze no. 34/94 p.33).
Last year, as in 1992, the summer was very hot and, until the middle of August, very dry. Inhabitants of Kuźnia Raciborska and its neighbourhood were observing anxiously dry reed grass, which had been growing on part of the site of the fire. About 40,000 ha of live forest remained in that area. The forest was watched vigilantly from watch towers and patrol aircraft. All the time foresters were in radio contact with fire brigades , the police and even the army. The ban on entering the forest was complained strictly and people who disregarded fire control regulations were fined. Although many fires started in that area the tragedy of 1992 was not repeated. In July 1994 the site of the fire was visited by Mr. Waldemar Pawlak, the Prime Minister, who laid flowers on symbolic graves of two firemen, who died while fighting the fire in 1992.
In the spring of 1994 Public Prosecutor in Katowice, after over one year of investigating, discounted the inquiry into the forest fire in forest divisions of Rudy Raciborskie, Rudzieniec and Kędzierzyn in 1992. The damage caused by the fire was estimated at 35,413,000zł. The amount did not include expenses of fire fighting, fire brigades, roadworks, the police, the army, civilians, Voluntary Fire Brigades (OSP Ochotnicza Straż Pożarna), production plants and various institutions. The real costs of fighting the fire were much higher.
It was stated on the basis of evidence that the fire had started at 15.30 in the forest division of Kiczowa, near the railway track. The fire had been probably initiated by sparks from under wheels (or pantograph) of a railway engine. Two trains were passing that place at that time. It had been discovered that other fires which had started on that day and on the following days might have been caused by unknown arsonists.
The fire-alarm system in all three-forest divisions was judged to be in compliance with standards. The principles of fire protection were not broken. However, Polish National Railways (PKP - Polskie Koleje Państwowe) was negligent in maintaining so-called Koenitz belts along the railway track in forest in Ruda forest division.
The fire fighting and rescue operations were judged to be the only possible action those conditions. It was stated that the following factors helped to change the fire into a disaster:
In May 1994 the interested forest divisions demanded that PKP should cover the damages caused by the fire. The damages were estimated at 35,000,000 zł. As there was no answer the forest divisions brought an action against PKP two months later but it has not been settled yet. Circumstantial evidence shows that PKP is guilty but there is no direct evidence, e. g. a person who witnessed the sparks. In practice, State Forests (Lasy Państwowe) win about 50% of such cases. This time chances for a favourable verdict are good.
Andrzej Żarczyński, M. A.
Institute of General and Ecological Chemistry
of the Łódź Polytechnics
(Instytut Chemii Ogólnej i Ekologiczne Politechniki Łódzkiej)
Łódź, l2th December, 1994
reprinted from Zielone Brygady 2/95