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Inspiration Study Circle, Dehradun Explained: Uttarakhand Forest Fires

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Inspiration Study Circle, Dehradun Explained: Uttarakhand Forest Fires

Uttarakhand has recorded the highest number of large forest fires in the country in the last seven days since April 28, according to the Forest Survey of India (FSI) data. 

At 325, the Himalayan state reported the highest number of large forest fire incidents in this period, followed by Odisha (196), Chhattisgarh (148), Madhya Pradesh (105) and Jharkhand (79). In the same period, Uttarakhand also recorded 4,543 fire alerts, the highest in the country, followed by Odisha (2,981), Chhattisgarh (2,527), Jharkhand (1,420) and Madhya Pradesh (105), according to FSI data, as cited by Hindustan Times.

Forest fires in Uttarakhand, a state in northern India, have been a recurring problem over the years. The region is known for its dense forests, and the combination of various factors contributes to the occurrence and severity of forest fires. Here are some key points about forest fires in Uttarakhand:

  1. Seasonal Variation: Forest fires in Uttarakhand are more common during the dry season, typically lasting from February to June. During this period, the vegetation becomes dry, and the weather conditions, including high temperatures and low humidity, create a conducive environment for fires to start and spread rapidly.
  2. Natural Factors: Lightning strikes are a significant natural cause of forest fires in Uttarakhand. Dry thunderstorms during the pre-monsoon season can ignite fires when lightning strikes dried vegetation. These fires can quickly spread due to the dry conditions and high winds.
  3. Human Activities: Human activities play a significant role in the occurrence of forest fires. Most fires in Uttarakhand are caused by human actions, either unintentionally or deliberately. Activities such as slash-and-burn agriculture, disposal of burning cigarette butts, unauthorized camping, and improper handling of fire during religious ceremonies contribute to accidental fires. Additionally, incidents of intentional arson for various reasons have been reported.
  4. Forest Fragmentation and Encroachments: The fragmentation of forested areas due to infrastructure development and encroachments by human settlements increases the risk of forest fires. These disturbances disrupt the natural firebreaks and make the spreading of fires easier.
  5. Inadequate Forest Management: Challenges in forest management, including limited resources, insufficient manpower, and outdated firefighting techniques, have also contributed to the severity of forest fires. Lack of proper fire lines or firebreaks and inadequate fire detection systems make it challenging to control and contain fires promptly.
  6. Topography: Uttarakhand’s terrain is characterized by steep slopes and rugged mountains, making firefighting operations difficult and sometimes dangerous. Inaccessibility to certain areas hampers the efforts of firefighters to reach the fire source quickly, allowing the fires to spread unchecked.

Why is Uttarakhand prone to Forest Fires?

Uttarakhand is prone to forest fires for several reasons:

  1. Dry and Hot Climate: Uttarakhand experiences a significant variation in temperature throughout the year, with hot and dry summers. The dry and hot climate creates favorable conditions for the ignition and spread of forest fires.
  2. Abundant Forest Resources: Uttarakhand is known for its vast forest cover, including dense forests, shrubs, and grasslands. These forests consist of a variety of trees and vegetation, many of which are highly flammable. The abundance of fuel sources increases the risk of forest fires.
  3. Human Activities: Human activities, including agricultural practices, grazing, and human settlements in and around forested areas, contribute to the occurrence of forest fires. Careless disposal of cigarette butts, open fires, and burning of agricultural residue can accidentally ignite the surrounding vegetation.
  4. Inadequate Forest Management: Challenges in forest management and limited resources can affect the prevention and control of forest fires. Insufficient fire detection systems, lack of proper fire lines or firebreaks, and inadequate firefighting equipment contribute to the spread of wildfires.
  5. Steep Terrain: Uttarakhand’s topography is characterized by steep slopes and rugged terrain, which can hinder firefighting operations. Inaccessibility to certain areas makes it difficult for firefighters to reach the source of the fire promptly, allowing it to spread unchecked.
  6. Monsoon Dependency: Uttarakhand heavily relies on the monsoon season for precipitation. Dry spells or delayed monsoons can result in reduced moisture content in the forests, making them more susceptible to fires.
  7. Forest Fragmentation: Fragmentation of forest areas due to developmental activities, such as road construction and urbanization, can disrupt natural firebreaks and increase the vulnerability of forests to fires.

The Recent Stats on Forest Fires in Uttarakhand

The increasing frequency of forest fires in Uttarakhand is attributed to a combination of natural phenomena and human activities. According to a recent report by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), the state’s forests cover 24,305 square kilometers, which is about 44.5 percent of its total geographical area.

These forests, covering an area of ​​3.94 lakh hectares mainly of highly flammable pine trees, are highly flammable and therefore prone to fire. Additionally, prolonged dry spells across the Himalayas, along with factors such as excess biomass, have contributed greatly to this phenomenon.

A significant factor behind the wildfires is the increased dryness in the region, a result of a heat wave affecting the Nainital and Champawat districts bordering Nepal. This factor has been identified as the main reason behind forest fires in Uttarakhand.

Moreover, rains have been removed from the Himalayan state this winter. Uttarakhand has seen less rainfall and less snowfall in winter since September, which has worsened the situation.

How frequent are forest fires in India?

Usually, India experiences its forest fire season from November to June. According to the FSI website, approximately 36 percent of India’s forests are susceptible to fires.

Factors such as temperatures, precipitation, vegetation, and moisture levels also influence the occurrence of these fires. Environment experts emphasize that fuel load, oxygen levels, and temperature variations play significant roles in igniting these fires.

Incidents of fires in the country are predominantly reported during March, April, and May. This is attributed to the abundance of dry biomass following the conclusion of winter and preceding the onset of summer, as reported by Indian Express.

Another scenario to look at it is, that, forest fires in India occur with varying frequencies, depending on the region and climatic conditions. Here are some key points regarding the frequency of forest fires in India:

  1. Seasonal Variation: Forest fires in India are more prevalent during the dry season, which typically occurs from February to June. During this period, the vegetation becomes dry, and the weather conditions, such as high temperatures and low humidity, create favorable conditions for fires to start and spread.
  2. High-Risk Regions: Certain regions in India are more prone to forest fires due to their climatic conditions, vegetation types, and topography. States like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and parts of the northeastern states have reported a higher incidence of forest fires.
  3. Human Activities: Human activities, both intentional and unintentional, significantly contribute to forest fires in India. Agricultural practices like slash-and-burn agriculture, improper disposal of burning cigarette butts, open fires for cooking or heating, and encroachments into forest areas increase the risk of fires. Additionally, deliberate acts of arson, often driven by land disputes or other motivations, can lead to forest fires.
  4. Climate Change: Climate change has the potential to influence the frequency and intensity of forest fires in India. Rising temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and changes in vegetation dynamics can create conditions that favor the occurrence and spread of fires.
  5. Inadequate Forest Management: Challenges in forest management, including limited resources, insufficient manpower, and outdated firefighting techniques, contribute to the occurrence and severity of forest fires. In many cases, forests are not equipped with adequate fire detection systems, fire lines, or firefighting equipment, making it difficult to control and suppress fires effectively.
  6. Traditional Practices: Some traditional practices, such as controlled or prescribed burning, are used in certain regions of India as a land management tool. These intentional fires, when not properly controlled or monitored, can sometimes escalate into uncontrollable wildfires.

Can these Wild Fires be controlled, if yes how?

Efforts are being made by the Indian government, forest departments, and various organizations to prevent and manage forest fires. These include the implementation of early warning systems, community participation in fire prevention and firefighting, awareness campaigns, training programs for forest staff, and the use of modern firefighting techniques.

The Uttarakhand government, along with various organizations and communities, has been working to prevent and control forest fires. Initiatives such as early warning systems, increased community participation, training of forest staff, and the use of modern firefighting techniques are being implemented to mitigate the impact of forest fires in Uttarakhand. To mitigate the risk of forest fires, proactive measures such as increased awareness, better forest management practices, early detection systems, community involvement, and timely firefighting efforts are essential.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) outlines four strategies to prevent and manage forest fires: erecting watch towers for early detection, deploying fire watchers, engaging local communities, and establishing and maintaining fire lines. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) website distinguishes between two types of fire lines: glass and crop. Kachha fire lines involve clearing undergrowth and shrubs while preserving trees to decrease the amount of available fuel. Conversely, Pucca fire lines are clear-cut areas that create a barrier between forest compartments or blocks to contain potential fire spread.

The FSI website explains that satellite-based remote sensing technology and GIS tools prove effective in fire prevention and management. These tools facilitate early warnings for fire-prone areas, real-time fire monitoring, and assessment of burned areas.

Disclaimer: The above article is based on the information and statistics provided by the media links: Business Standards and The Indian Express

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