Stopping forest fires starts early in Hungary

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© FIRELIFE. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.

The FIRELIFE project contributed to forest fire prevention in Hungary by carrying out a targeted communication campaign and by promoting biomass management among forest workers. Raising awareness of this climate change impact is crucial to increasing resilience.

Changes in land use and climate have greatly increased the scale and frequency of forest fires in Hungary in recent decades. In 2012, the year before the launch of the project, 2 500 forest fires affected around 14 000 hectares of forest in the country. Forest fires are mostly induced by people, but the project was set up to show that effective communication of prevention measures can reduce the number and impact of fires. Highlighting appropriate regulation and targeted subsidies can also improve biomass and land use conditions in order to slow down and limit the spread of fire. As a result of the project’s work, forest fires fell to a third of the 2012 figure by the time it finished earlier this year.

FIRELIFE began by identifying key target groups, the appropriate messages for them and ways in which they can be reached. In total around 59 000 people were reached directly by the project through a range of printed materials, videos and events. For example, around 2 000 information boards were installed on forest paths and at zoos and arboretums. “During the most endangered summer period, we expanded our awareness-raising activities with billboards beside motorways,” said project manager Daniel Nagy of the Hungarian forest authority.

Empowering storytelling

To reach children, two storybooks and a sticker booklet were produced. For the young and the young at heart, a range of “useful” merchandise, such as sports bags and reflective vests, was also created – because, said Mr Nagy, children (and adults) “prefer doing everything if there is a gift at the end, no matter what and how small”.

The project also organised events for children, including a mobile forest fire prevention adventure trail, featuring a bouncy castle and a watering wall, that can be easily packed onto a trailer and relocated to another site. Kids who completed the adventure trail were awarded a ‘forest patrol certificate’ to help them remember the occasion. “Involving children can help transfer knowledge of forest fire prevention to communities and families which are otherwise not interested in the topic. In order for this to work, the knowledge transfer should involve experience-based learning and the ratio of new knowledge to fun should be about one to four,” revealed Mr Nagy.

Playing with fire by the rules

More orthodox communication methods were also used, such as brochures, a short film and an illustrated flyer showing the whole family how to set – and extinguish – a fire. A poster campaign delivered a number of key messages:

  • the dangers that forest fires pose to wild animals;
  • methods of preventing fires;
  • safe ways of creating a campfire;
  • the dangers of dropping cigarette butts; and
  • local fire regulations.

The forest authority, national parks, forest owners, municipalities, schools, kindergartens and NGOs helped to decide the most effective locations for the posters, which were placed in school hallways, doctors’ waiting rooms, town halls, campsites, hotels, railway stations and tobacconists.

Another vital element of the project’s campaign involved passing on the fire prevention message through visits to people living on farms and in forested areas around Budapest. This direct communication was “very effective, even in the short term”, said Mr Nagy.

Professional training

Training in forest fire prevention was offered to a range of professions, recognising the different roles that they play.

To ensure the long-term continuation of the training sessions, the project created e-learning modules that can be incorporated into the general training received by forest managers, conservationists and fire fighters. The training highlights that controlled burning of biomass can prevent the spread of fires and represents a viable management tool.

Image © FIRELIFE. All rights reserved. Licenced to the European Union under conditions.

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