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Forest Fires in India – An analysis.

Synopsis: Forest fires in India occurring more frequently. But India is facing challenges in controlling them.

Introduction:

Most forest fires in India appeared between the April-May months. In recent years the forest fires have been more frequent than usual. For example, in few areas, forest fires occurred in the winter months also.

Uttarakhand alone witnessed more than 1000 forest fire incidents in the past six months. Since the start of 2021, forest fires have been seen in Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland-Manipur border, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat.

Prime hotspots of Forest Fires in India:
Forest Fires in India (Source: ISFR-2019)

According to the India State Forest Report 2019, 21.67% of India’s geographical area is forest. Forests in Assam, Mizoram and Tripura have been identified as ‘extremely prone to the forest fires.

States with large forest areas under the ‘very highly prone’ category include Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, etc.

Since the start of this year, prolonged fires are recorded in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh (Kullu Valley) and Nagaland-Manipur border (Dzukou Valley). Further in recent months forest fires also occurred in Simlipal National Park in Odisha, Bandhavgarh Forest Reserve in Madhya Pradesh and in sanctuaries for the Asiatic lion and the great Indian bustard in Gujarat.

The present forest fire in Nainital started in March end.

Reason for Forest Fires in India:

Forest fires occur in India both due to Natural and Man-made causes.

Natural causes for Forest Fires in India:

  1. Massive fires in the Amazon forests in Brazil and in Australia are primarily due to Climate Change. The fires due to climate change have certain characteristics in common. It is also applicable to India. They are,
    • Longer duration of fires
    • High-intensity fires
    • Fires of high-frequency
  2. In India the march and April month see more forest fires. This is due to the availability of large quantities of dry wood, logs, stumps, dead leaves, dry grass and weeds in forest lands.
  3. Lack of soil moisture is also seen as a key factor. For example, the recent Uttarakhand forest fires are due to this.
Man-Made causes for Forest Fires in India:

But many major fires in India are triggered mainly by human activities.

  1. Manmade fires are high particularly in places where people visit forests. People leave burning bidis, cigarette stubs or other inflammable materials inside the forest.
  2. In some places, people deliberately cause a fire. For example, the recent fire in Simlipal National Park in Odisha is due to deliberation. Villagers set dry leaves to fire in order to collect mahua flowers. (The local people use these flowers in preparation for a local drink).

Control of Forest Fires in India:

Forest fires are difficult to control due to the following reasons.

  1.  The locality of the forest and access to the specific location is hard for firefighters.
  2. Shortage of Firefighters: This creates challenges in the timely mobilisation of forest staff,  fuel and fire fighting equipment, etc.
  3.  Impossible to transport heavy vehicles loaded with water into the thick forests. So, in extreme places helicopters are used.
  4. Wind speed and direction can also play a crucial role in fire fighting.

Importance of preventing Forest Fires in India:

  1. A healthy forest stores and sequesters more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem.
  2. According to the 2011 census, 1.70 lakh villages in India have proximity to forests. The livelihood of several crores of people is dependent on fuelwood, bamboo, fodder, and small timber.
  3. Forest fires can have multiple adverse effects on the forest. For example, forest cover, soil, tree growth, vegetation, and the overall flora and fauna all get impact due to forest fires.
    • The heat generated during the fire destroys animal habitats.
    • Soil quality decreases with the alteration in their compositions.
    • The trees that survive fire often remain stunted and their growth gets severely affected.
    • Soil moisture and fertility gets affected. Thus forests can shrink in size in the future.

Government Initiatives to prevent Forest Fires in India:

  1. Since 2004, the Forest Survey of India(FSI) developed a Fire Alert System. The system will monitor forest fires in real-time. In 2019, an advanced version of the system was also launched.
  2. Using the MODIS sensors(Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) Real-time fire information of fire hotspots is collected and sent to FSI. This is then forwarded by email to state, district, circle, division, range and beat levels. People in the locality will also receive SMS alerts.

Source: The Indian Express

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