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Forest fires in the spring and their frequency throughout this year

Topics Covered: Disaster management.

Forest fires in the spring and their frequency throughout this year:


Context:

Since the start of 2021, there has been a series of forest fires in Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland-Manipur border, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat, including in wildlife sanctuaries.

  • April-May is the season when forest fires take place in various parts of the country. But, forest fires have been more frequent than usual in Uttarakhand and have also taken place during winter; dry soil caused by a weak monsoon is being seen as one of the causes.

How prone to fire are India’s forests?

  • Most vulnerable areas: Forests of the Northeast and central India regions are the most vulnerable areas to forest fires.
  • ‘Extremely prone’ areas: Forests in Assam, Mizoram and Tripura have been identified as ‘extremely prone’ to forest fire.
  • ‘Very highly prone’ category: States with large forest areas under the ‘very highly prone’ category include Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
  • ‘Extremely prone’ category: Western Maharashtra, Southern Chhattisgarh and areas of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, along with central Odisha, are turning into ‘extremely prone’ forest fire hotspots.

Areas under the ‘highly prone’ and ‘moderately prone’ categories make up about 26.2% of the total forest cover — a whopping 1,72,374 sq km.

What causes forest fires?

  1. Lack of soil moisture.
  2. Rainfall deficiency.
  3. Natural causes such as lightning, high atmospheric temperatures and low humidity
  4. Man-made causes like flame, cigarette, electric spark or any source of ignition will also cause forest fires.
  5. 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.

Why are forest fires difficult to control?

  • The locality of the forest and access to it pose hurdles in initiating firefighting efforts.
  • During peak season, shortage of staff is another challenge in dispatching firefighting teams.
  • Timely mobilisation of forest staff, fuel and equipment, depending on the type of fire, through the thick forests remain challenges.
  • As it is impossible to transport heavy vehicles loaded with water into the thick forests, a majority of fire dousing is initiated manually, using blowers and similar devices.
  • Wind speed and direction play a critical role in bringing a forest fire under control. The fire often spreads in the direction of the winds and towards higher elevations.

What efforts are being taken to protect forests from fire?

  1. Since 2004, the FSI developed the Forest Fire Alert System to monitor forest fires in real time.
  2. In its advanced version launched in January 2019, the system now uses satellite information gathered from NASA and ISRO.
  3. Real-time fire information from identified fire hotspots is gathered using MODIS sensors (1km by 1km grid) and electronically transmitted to FSI.

Sources: Indian Express.