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UPSC Sansad TV: AIR- Combating Forest Fires in Intense Heatwave





Forest Fire:

  • It is also called bush or vegetation fire or wildfire, it can be described as any uncontrolled and non-prescribed combustion or burning of plants in a natural setting such as a forest, grassland, brushland or tundra, which consumes the natural fuels and spreads based on environmental conditions (e.g., wind, topography).
  • A wildfire requires three essential elements to sustain combustion likeFuel, Oxygen, and a Heat source.

Causes of the fires:

  • Record-breaking temperatures, extended drought and strong winds have converged to create disastrous fire conditions.
  • As a severe heat wave gripped most of the country, country recorded its hottest day on record, with average highs of 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or 41.9 degrees Celsius.
  • The heat wave is continuing this week in, with temperatures expected to reach 105 in the capital.
  • The extreme heat has followed the driest spring on record.
  • Most of the regions have been experiencing shortfalls in rain. The drought has hit the country’s most productive agricultural areas, including some of those now ablaze.

Economic and Social Benefits of forests at large:

  • More forests mean more water that benefits farmers and future generations.
  • According to Rabindranath Tagore, life in forest is the highest form of cultural evolution.
  • Trees are able to store carbon for a long time and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere is one of the ways of mitigating climate change.
  • Tree roots are key allies in heavy rain. They help the ground absorb more of a flash flood, reducing soil loss and property damage by slowing the flow. Forests provide a wealth of natural medicines.
  • They contribute to the overall economy – through employment, processing and trade of forest products and energy
  • Benefits from Recreational, aesthetic, cognitive and spiritual activities


Effect of forest fires on biodiversity:

  • 50% of global water and this helps in cooling the Earth.
  • Significant source of emitted carbon.
  • Contribute to global warming that leads to biodiversity changes.
  • At regional and local level will lead to change in biomass stocks, alter hydrological cycle.
  • Subsequent effects for marine systems like coral reefs.
  • Impact functioning of plant and animal species.
  • Smokes from fires reduces photosynthetic activity and can be detrimental to the health of human and animals.
  • Increased probability of further burning in subsequent years.
  • As dead trees topple to the ground, open up forest to drying by sunlight.
  • Consequences of repeated burns is detrimental as it is the key factor in the impoverishment of biodiversity in rainforest ecosystem.
  • Replacement of vast areas of forest with grasslands is another negative ecological impact of fires in tropical rain forest.

Australia fires and Climate Change:

  • This year a natural weather phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole has meant a hot, dry spell across the country.
  • But the overwhelming scientific consensus is that rising levels of CO2 are warming the planet. And Australia has been getting hotter over recent decades and is expected to continue doing so.
  • Scientists have long warned that this hotter, drier climate will contribute to fires becoming more frequent and more intense.
  • The more extreme weather patterns and higher temperatures increase the risk of bushfires and allow them to spread faster and wider.

Impact of Australian Fires:

The impact can be short and long term.

  • Fires taking massive tool on wildlife.
  • Flames, heat, smoke in habitation having devastating impacts on vertebrates, invertebrates not only killing them directly but also leading to longer term indirect effects like stress, loss of habitat, territories, shelter and food.
  • Loss of key organisms in forest ecosystem such as invertebrates, pollinators and decomposers can slow forest recovery rate.
  • Vulnerable species may become more threatened and face extinction.
  • Experts also say the entire ecosystem of rainforest will be altered.
  • Surviving in transformed ecosystem difficult for many species.
  • Displacements of territorial birds and mammals.

What has been the damage so far?

  • Entire towns have been engulfed in flames, and residents across several states have lost their homes.
  • The heaviest structural damage occurred in NSW, the country’s most populated state, where 1,588 homes have been destroyed and over 650 damaged.
  • A total of 27 people across Australia have died this fire season, including several volunteer firefighters.

How many animals have died?

  • About half a billion animals have been affected by the fires across NSW, with millions likely dead — and that’s a conservative estimate.
  • That number of total animals affected could be as high as one billion nationwide, according to ecologists from the University of Sydney.
  • The figures for NSW include birds, reptiles, and mammals, except bats. It also excludes insects and frogs, so the real sum is almost certain to be higher, the ecologists said.
  • Almost a third of koalas in NSW may have been killed in the fires, and a third of their habitat has been destroyed.
  • Some species, like koalas, aren’t in any immediate danger of extinction because they are spread out across the country. But others that live in more niche environments with lower populations, including certain types of frogs and birds, could be wiped out entirely if their habitats are hit by the fires.
  • These are pretty good estimates based on previous research on population density — but until the fires stop, researchers have no way of surveying just how extensive the damage is, and exactly how many animals have died.