What causes frequent forest fires? Uttarakhand reports 45 incidents in 24 hours, seeks centre help

The Simlipal National Park in Odisha and Bandhavgarh Forest Reserve in Madhya Pradesh also saw major incidents of forest fire in recent months. (Representative image)

The state of Uttarakhand has recorded more than a thousand forest fire incidents in the last six months and in the last 24 hours 45 forest fire incidents have been reported from the state. The state government has requested the centre to come to its aid by providing helicopters and NDRF personnel to douse the fire and other relief work. So far, a total of five people and seven animals have been reported dead due to these incidents, the Indian Express reported.

In addition to Uttarakhand, forest fires have also been reported from other dense forest vegetation states like Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland-Manipur border, Odisha among others since the beginning of this year.

What regions in the country have reported forest fires?
Even in the months of winter, the forests of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh(Kullu Valley), Nagaland-Manipur border (Dzukou Valley) saw multiple instances of prolonged forest fire. The Simlipal National Park in Odisha and Bandhavgarh Forest Reserve in Madhya Pradesh also saw major incidents of forest fire in recent months.

Are Indian forests too vulnerable to forest fire incidents?
As per the report of the Forest Survey of India (FSI) 2019 report, about 21.6 percent of the geographical area of the country comes under forests. As per FSI, the forests in the North Eastern region and those in the central parts of the country are most prone to forest fire incidents. In addition to these extremely prone forests, many other forest areas in states like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Bihar are also categorised as very highly prone to forest fire incidents in the country.

Why do forest fire incidents take place?
There are a number of causes for increasing forest fire incidents around the world including climate change and other human activities which have resulted in multiple forest fire incidents in the world including Amazon forests and Australian forests in the last couple of years. Experts have pointed out that degrading climate change is responsible for forest fires which are of longer duration, higher frequency and highly inflammable.

In India, most cases of forest fire are reported in the months of March and April when the forests have lots of dry leaves, wood logs, weeds, bushes which easily catch fire. Many incidents are caused naturally as amidst excessive heat and low moisture even dry branches can catch fire after they rub against one another and engulf the whole area in the vicinity in long flames. Lack of moisture in soil due to successive deficient monsoon seasons can also trigger frequent forest fire incidents like in the case of Uttarakhand.

But many times forest fires are caused by human actions as the extremely dry forests can catch fire even with little act of negligence like leaving a matchstick lit or throwing a cigarette butt.

Why is it difficult to douse forest fires?
As the forests are dense vegetation areas, transport of fire-fighting equipment and manpower becomes extremely difficult. In such situations, the government authorities rely on manually operated water spray machines and helicopters in rare cases to douse the fire. Shortage of staff workers during the peak season when there are multiple incidents of forest fires is also one of the factors responsible. High wind speed can also increase the intensity and spread of the forest fire and can sustain it for a longer period of time.

Are forest fires harmful?
Being one of the largest sources, sinks and reservoirs of carbon, forests are the most crucial weapons in the fight against climate change. Forests also support the livelihood of millions of people in the country who live in the vicinity of forests by providing wood, medicine, other and other forest produce. Flora and fauna which are endemic to these forests are also affected badly leading to a decrease in their numbers.

Intense forest fires render many forests permanently degraded and incapable of supporting vegetation in future. The forests which survive the worst of forest fires are also rendered less fertile and consistently shrink in size over the years.

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