News: In Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka, a major fire broke out in February, severity of fire can be estimate by the fact that it took five days for the Indian Air Force and the forest officials, to douse the flames.
So, let’s have look at the issue of forest fire.
Some basic facts
On February 25, the National Remote Sensing Centre estimated that about 4,419.54 hectares or 10,920 acres of the Bandipur forest were affected.
As per Forest Survey of India (FSI), The number of forest fires shot up to 14,107 from 4,225 between November 2018 and February 2019.
The most vulnerable stretches of the world to forest fire are the youngest mountain ranges of Himalayas.
Because of the more rain density, the forests of Eastern Himalayas are less vulnerable to forest fires as compared to those in Western Himalayas.
Types of Forest Fire
There are two types of forest fire i) Surface Fire and ii) Crown Fire
Surface Fire: A forest fire may burn primarily as a surface fire, spreading along the ground as the surface litter (senescent leaves and twigs and dry grasses etc.) on the forest floor and is engulfed by the spreading flames.
Crown Fire: The other type of forest fire is a crown fire in which the crown of trees and shrubs burn, often sustained by a surface fire. A crown fire is particularly very dangerous in a coniferous forest because resinous material given off burning logs burn furiously. On hill slopes, if the fire starts downhill, it spreads up fast as heated air adjacent to a slope tends to flow up the slope spreading flames along with it. If the fire starts uphill, there is less likelihood of it spreading downwards.
What causes forest fires?
Forest fire is also a natural phenomenon, which can be caused by
- Lightening, that can set trees on fire.
- High atmospheric temperatures and dryness (low humidity), which provides suitable condition for forest fires.
- Low level of moisture in soil and atmosphere.
- Friction of bamboos swaying due to high wind velocity and rolling stones that result in sparks setting off fires in highly inflammable leaf litter.
Fire is caused when a source of fire like naked flame, cigarette or bidi, electric spark or any source of ignition comes into contact with inflammable material. Other causes include:
- practice of shifting cultivation
- use of fires by villagers to ward off wild animal
Effects of forest fire
Effects on health: Forest fires also pose serious health hazards by producing smoke and noxious gases. It is bad for people suffering from respiratory diseases.
Effect on environment: Burning of vegetation not only releases carbon dioxide but also a host of other, noxious gases (Greenhouse gases) such as carbon monoxide, methane, hydrocarbons, nitric oxide and nitrous oxide, that lead to global warming and ozone layer depletion. It also results in loss of carbon sink resources.
It can cause loss of wildlife habitats and depletion of wild flora and fauna.
Effect on economy: India loses around Rs 550 crore every year owing to damages caused by forest fires. It also leads to loss of timber resources. Forest fires also pose a serious threat to India’s ability to expand its forest and tree cover by 2030.
Effect on livelihood: It results in loss of livelihood for tribal and poor dependent upon collection of non-timber forest products from forest areas.
Man-made Forest fires are although harmful, nature has its own way to balance its elements. Forest fire is also one of the elements. Forest fires occurring naturally can have several benefits:
Revival of dormant seeds: Fire helps in revival of dormant seeds of many species.
Invasive species suppression: Forest fires are helpful in suppressing the invasive species. For example, According to Soligas’ accounts, hairy mistletoe — a parasitic shrub that affects mature trees — has also thrived due to fire suppression.
High amount of nutrients: Forests contain hundreds of dead trees and decaying plant matters, which otherwise would have taken very long time to assimilate into the soil, when a fire turns them to ashes, nutrients return to the soil instead of remaining captive in old vegetation.
Sunlight for ground vegetation: Crown fire in dense forests can be beneficial, as it allows sunlight to reach to the ground, triggering flora growth, which otherwise is not possible.
High growth in young trees: In most cases, young trees survive forest fires and have higher growth rates immediately post-fire, until they reach a certain height.
Forest Fire Prevention and Management (FPM): It is the only centrally funded program specifically dedicated to assist the states in dealing with forest fires. The FPM replaced the Intensification of Forest Management Scheme (IFMS) in December 2017. By revamping the IFMS, the FPM has increased the amount dedicated for forest fire work.
Madhya Pradesh became first state to develop an SMS-based system to alert field staff to active fires burning in their area, using Remote Sensing Satellite data. After that Forest Survey of India (FSI) rolled out a nation-wide satellite-based detection system.
How forest fires can be managed?
- Managing man-made fires: Prevention of human-caused fires through education and environmental modification
- Creation of observation points: Prompt detection of fires through a well-coordinated network of observation points, efficient ground patrolling, and communication networks. Remote sensing technology is to be given due importance in fire detection.
- Removal of dead hardwood: the removal of dead hardwood trees, which create the potential for intense fires, could help reduce the number of incidents.
- Fire line: A basic fire lines (a gap in vegetation or other combustible material in the forest) should be created, which can slow down or stop the progress of a wildfire.
- Controlled fire: Controlled fires in areas that have huge fuel loads (dry litter and biomass on the forest floor) can help prevent as well as reduce the impact of large fires later in the season.
- The British introduced a system of controlled burning of undergrowth in safe seasons (say, during winter), so that by summer there would be nothing left to burn. But it may wipe out insects, small reptiles, seeds, herbs and bushes.
- Recruit more staff: More Forest Department field staff should be hired to put out fires during the fire season and to patrol the forests during other times.
There is a need of more coherent and detailed policy on forest fires that can stop the man made forest fires from becoming disasters, ruining environmental and social conditions of the country.