By Marie Dhumieres

BEIRUT: A forest fire prediction system aimed at providing authorities and the public with a tool to reduce forest fires was launched Thursday by an environmental organization and the American University of Beirut.

“Once a fire breaks out, there is not much you can really do,” said Sawsan Bou Fakhredine, the director of the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation.

“That’s why prediction is a basic element in forest fire fighting. It’s much more important than just responding [to fire outbreaks] during fire season.”

Predictions will appear on a daily basis on a website or sent by email alerts for those who subscribe to the service. The project uses data on weather conditions collected in four stations across the country to predict the level of forest fire risks in different regions.

The system, part of the National Strategy for Forest Fire management developed by AFDC and approved by the government in 2009, features a map of Lebanon and colored indicators pointed at different areas of the country and ranging from very high to low risk.

AUB electrical and computer engineering professor Imad Elhajj, who worked on the project, explained that the predictions were based on weather conditions data from the previous day, collected at midnight. “Every day at 9 a.m. the predictions will appear on the website,” he said.

“We were able to develop a relatively acceptable system in terms of accuracy of predictions,” he said, explaining that the new system examines the relative humidity and annual cumulative precipitation, which are the two main parameters to be taken into account when it comes to forest fires.

“The system on its own cannot reduce forest fires, but it can predict the risk of fire occurrence.”

“But if people respond to the risk by taking simple preventive measures, many forest fires could be prevented,” he said, hoping “people will change their behavior” and refrain from using fireworks, throwing lit cigarettes and having barbecues in the at-risk areas.

He also hoped TV stations will eventually include these predictions in their daily bulletins, in order to reach the general public directly.

The team has already sent information on the prediction system to municipalities across the country, and says the website will allow them to take preventive and adequate measures.

“They will be able to monitor and patrol the area, and disseminate information to farmers so they don’t start fires,” Elhajj said.

Bou Fakhredine explained that the system will help authorities gain “golden minutes,” as it will allow firefighters to intervene in the early stage of the fire.

“The first 20 minutes are the most critical,” she said. “This kind of system will help in controlling the fire more easily and in a shorter period of time,” which will limit the damage.

The team is now working on the second phase of the project, which focuses on detecting fire outbreaks at their early stage.

Forest fire predictions can be seen on To receive email alerts contact

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 19, 2011, on page 3.

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