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Borneo’s lowland rainforests may be lost completely to forest fires unless land-use policies are changed to control logging, warn a group of researchers in the 22 November issue of Nature.

Siegert et al assessed damage caused by the 1997-98 forest fires in Indonesia — in which 2.6 million hectares of forest were burnt — and found that the fires mainly affected recently logged areas; primary forests or those logged long ago were less affected.

Undisturbed tropical rainforest is normally highly resistant to fire because it offers little available fuel and has high humidity levels even during drought. In recently cleared areas, however, logging waste and dense undergrowth of fast-growing pioneer species provides large amounts of fuel — encouraging the spread of forest fires.

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Reference: Nature 414, 437 (2001)

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