Prelims level : Environment Mains level : GS-3 Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
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Why in News:

  • Thursday’s fires broke out in the eastern province of Gangwon, razing about 525 hectares and about 134 homes, seven warehouses and other structures, the government said in a statement.
  • Major Forest fire regions in India:

    • Forest fires are a major cause of degradation of India’s
    • forests. Human-made forest fires in the Himalayan states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have been a regular and historic feature. The Himalayan forests, particularly, Garhwal Himalayas witness major fire incidents.
    • Forests with chir pine are very prone to fire as they easily catch fire.
    • 291 forest fires have occurred in Uttarakhand, 2,422 in Chhattisgarh and 2,349 in Odisha. Madhya Pradesh reported 2,238 forest fires.
    • Maharashtra, Assam and Andhra Pradesh states also reported several incidents of Forest fires in the recent past.

    How does government get informed on Forest Fire?

    • When a fire is detected by NASA’s MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) and VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) satellites, the Forest Survey of India (FSI) analyses the data by overlaying the digitised boundaries of forest areas to pinpoint the location to the exact forest compartment.
    • The FSI relays news of the fire to the concerned State, so that the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) in charge of the forest where the fire is raging is informed. A few years ago, the time lapse between spotting the fire and the news reaching the DFO was five to six hours, but this has been reduced to about two hours recently.
    • The frequency of the two satellites orbiting the earth has also been increased from twice daily to once in three hours.

    Impacts of Forest Fires on Environment:

    Fires are a major cause of forest degradation and have wide ranging adverse ecological, economic and social impacts.

      • Loss of valuable timber resources, degradation of catchment areas
      • loss of biodiversity and extinction of plants and animals, global warming
      • loss of carbon sink resource and increase in percentage of CO2 in atmosphere
      • change in the microclimate of the area with unhealthy living conditions
      • soil erosion affecting productivity of soils and production, ozone layer depletion
      • loss of livelihood for tribal people and the rural poor

    What are the different methods practiced to contain Forest fires?

    • Helicopters or aeroplanes or ground-based personnel spray fire retardant chemicals, or pump water to fight the blaze. This is very expensive and usually not practiced in India.
    • The second is to contain the fire in compartments bordered by natural barriers such as streams, roads, ridges or fire lines. A fire line is a line through a forest which has been cleared of all vegetation. Once the blaze has burnt out all combustibles in the affected compartment, it vanishes out and the neighbouring compartments are saved.
    • The third is to set a counter fire. The counter fire rushes towards the wildfire, leaving a stretch of burnt ground. As soon as the two fires meet, the blaze is extinguished.
    • The fourth approach is to have enough people with leafy green branches to beat the fire out. This is mostly practised in combination with fire lines and counter fires.
    • The lack of oxygen in the immediate vicinity of tall flames can cause breathlessness due to asphyxiation. Dehydration is also an issue when fighting flames more than a metre high.

    Causes of Forest Fire

    • Forest fires are caused by Natural causes as well as Man-made or anthropogenic causes Natural causes such as lightning which set trees on fire. High atmospheric temperatures and low humidity offer favourable circumstance for a fire to start. Man-made causes like flame, cigarette, electric spark or any source of ignition will also cause forest fires. Traditionally Indian forests have been affected by fires. The problem has been aggravated with rising human and cattle population and the increase in demand for grazing, shifting cultivation and Forest products by individuals and communities. High temperature, wind speed and direction, level of moisture in soil and atmosphere and duration of dry spells can intensify the forest fires.

    Preparedness and mitigation measures

    • seasonal labour could be contracted during the fire season. With adequate training, they would serve to fill gaps along the line. Local villagers would be the best resource. To keep the source of fire separated from combustible material. Adopt safe practices in areas near forests viz. factories, coalmines, oil stores, chemical plants and even in household kitchens.In case of forest fires, the volunteer teams are essential not only for firefighting but also to keep watch on the start of forest and sound an alert. Arrange firefighting drills frequently



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