Fire is both a product and cause of peatland degradation. Drained, logged and converted peatlands are extremely susceptible to fire, which in turn leaves the system more severely degraded. Peatland surface fires are destructive, but, when these fires transition below ground into the peat, they become more dangerous in terms of the resulting greenhouse gases, pollutants, toxins and haze produced. Research has already shown the relationships between land clearing, drainage and rainfall patterns with fire frequency, severity and resulting greenhouse gas emissions. For these reasons, effective strategies are needed to reduce the incidence of peat fires through improved understanding and management. The mitigation of fire risk is best performed through a combined approach of monitoring, prediction and prevention.

fire Monitoring

Almost all sources of peatland fire ignition are anthropogenic, as there is little evidence that lightning or other environmental conditions ignite peatland fires in tropical peatlands without human involvement. Fire research shows that both biophysical conditions such as fuel load, water table and rainfall, and human actions such as land use and livelihood activities, play a key role in determining fire incidence, spread and whether it becomes a peat fire. For this reason, effective strategies and tools to prevent fires must be based on complete knowledge of the biophysical, social and economic conditions that lead to peat fires, and how these conditions are linked to land use and land management.

fire Prediction

Both monitoring and prediction can be considered as a continuum within the same system. Whereas monitoring takes place in real time, prediction is based mostly on climate and weather patterns and studying trends over time. Monitoring data is then applied to the wider trends that are taking place over time to help predict future behaviour and risks. Thus, accurate fire predictions can only be made in conjunction with real time monitoring.

With the knowledge that 1.7 million hectares of peatland burned in 2015, it is clear that effective fire management must enable fire prevention. One key aspect to fire prevention in peatlands is restoring the hydrological balance, and then maintaining the naturally high water tables. This can be achieved through landscape rewetting programs that reduce the risk of surface peatland fires developing into more dangerous sub-surface peat fires. In addition to rewetting, other fire management strategies include: adopting zero burning strategies for all commercial agriculture; improving law enforcement; improving capacity for local monitoring and the prediction of fire risk; implementing regular fire patrols; and monitoring fire risk using remote technology. Reducing fire risk also requires strengthening coordination between agencies involved in peatland fire prevention and control, and making further improvements to the existing land use policies and regulations.

fire Prevention