Context: An inquiry into the forest fires incident in Goa has indicated natural causes as the main reason for the incident.
Stats IQ: Forest fires in India
- Council of Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW):
- According to this public policy think tank, there is a tenfold increase in forest fire incidents over the past two decades.
- More than 62% of Indian states are vulnerable to high-intensity forest fires. These include Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Telangana, and the Northeastern states.
- Among all states, Mizoram has witnessed the highest incidence of forest fires over the last two decades. About 95% of its districts are forest fire hotspots.
- India State of Forest Report (ISFR):
- More than 36% of India’s forest cover is vulnerable to frequent forest fires, 6% is ‘very highly’ fire-prone, and almost 4% is ‘extremely’ prone (2021 report).
- The normal season of forest fires extends from November to June, and majority of fires are caused by man-made factors.
- Madhya Pradesh saw the highest number of fire incidents, followed by Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, between November 2021 and June 2022.
- A FSI study also found that nearly 10.66% area under forests in India is ‘extremely’ to ‘very highly’ fire prone.
What are Forest Fires?
- Forest fires, also known as bush fires or wildfires, are an unplanned, uncontrolled and unpredictable fire in an area of combustible vegetation.
- Forest fires are both natural and man-made. They are sometimes a way of regulating native vegetation, animals, and ecosystems.
- Various reasons for occurrence of forest fires:
- Natural causes:
- Lightning strikes: Lightning strikes on trees can trigger forest fires. Studies have found that such incidence of lightning strikes have increased due to climate change.
- Volcanic eruption: The extreme heat of lava, as a result of volcanic eruption, may cause vegetation to catch fire and spread, resulting in a forest fires.
- Friction between trees or rocks: Rubbing of trees with each other may generate sparks that can easily ignite dry grasses. Similarly, falling of rocks may trigger sparks to cause forest fires.
- Spontaneous combustion: Prolonged dry spell, followed by unprecedented high temperatures and low humidity can make vegetation so dry that sun rays can also trigger fires.
- Anthropogenic causes:
- Agriculture expansion: Slash and burn agricultural practice is one of the main reasons for spread of forest fires across the world.
- Poaching: Poachers in many parts of the world use fires to catch animals. Such fires many intensify and turn into forest fires.
- Recreation: Smoking and campfires have the capability to trigger forest fires. Studies have found that cigarette residue is the main cause of man-made forest fire.
- Electric spark: Overhead electric cables may sometimes burn as a result of overheating. This can trigger fires in areas where vegetation is already dry.
- Natural causes:
Connection between Climate change and Forest Fires
- Global warming: Climate change and global warming has increased temperatures, leading to longer dry spells. This facilitates drying of vegetation, making them vulnerable.
- Decline in duration of rainy season: Even though the intensity of rains has increased, it is concentrated within a short period. Increase in dry season has allowed vegetation to turn into tinder box.
- Increase in lightning: Studies have indicated that there will be more frequent incidences of lightning due to climate change. Such lightning incidents can trigger forest fires.
- Heatwaves: Heatwaves incidents have drastically increased across the world because of climate change. Heatwave conditions are optimal for forest fire incidents.
Tackling forest fires
- Controlled burning: Vulnerable areas must be mapped and preemptively burnt in a controlled manner. This will save larger areas that may have been burnt in case of forest fires.
- Water buffers: Water channels must be constructed within large parcels of vulnerable land (especially grasslands and shrubs) to prevent spread of fires.
- Awareness creation: Forest dwelling communities must be sensitized about the effects of intentional burning. Reducing human-caused ignitions may be the most effective means of reducing unwanted wildfire.
- Stringent laws: Stringent laws must be introduced that penalizes intentional forest fires. This can act as a deterrent against such actions.
Forest Fire Management under National Forest Policy
- The policy aims to prepare a strong data base / network on forest fires and evolve an appropriate method to deal with the forest fire situation in more effective manner.
- Under the policy, an Early Warning Fire Forecasting System utilizing satellite data and Fire Danger Rating System for early detection of forest fire has been introduced.
- Some actions suggested under the policy:
- Preventive actions: A preventive program consisting of zoning, danger rating, early warning and real time monitoring must be developed and implemented.
- Inter-agency coordination: Forest department needs to coordinate with National Remote Sensing Agency, Forest Survey of India, the Meteorological Department, the All India Radio and the State-owned television to plan their actions in the fire season.
- Increase vigilance: Vigilance must be increased in vulnerable areas. For that adequate number of firewatchers must be appointed.
- Communication network: Accessibility to vulnerable areas must be enhanced so as to enable quick transport of human and materials from one area to another.
- Awareness campaign: An awareness campaign involving schools, Joint Forest Management (JFM) committees, NGOs and other groups must be initiated to handle fire damage, prevention, detection and communication and suppression.
- Training: Training must be provided to fire managers, including trainers at JFM unit levels. This will empower them to take effective actions during forest fires.