GS 3 – Disaster and Disaster Management

Source : The INDIAN EXPRESS dated 07/04/2021 https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-why-is-this-seasons-forest-fires-in-uttarakhand-worrisome-7261373/

Context : In just five days of April, Uttarakhand has recorded 361 incidents of forest fire that have damaged 567 hectares, including 380 hectares of reserve forest areas.


  • Forest fires, 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, brush land or tundra, which consumes the natural fuels and spreads based on environmental conditions (e.g., wind, topography).

       Three conditions are necessary for a wildfire to burn: fuel, oxygen, and a heat source.

Why is the current situation worrisome?

  • The peak in wildfires occurs in the months of May and June in Uttarakhand. But this year so far 983 forest fires incidents occurred.
  • Reasons include
    • Pandemic induced lockdown left a lot of combustible material
    • Less rain during monsoon and almost nil rain during winters

Other instances of wildfire in 2021

January saw prolonged fires in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh (Kullu Valley) and Nagaland-Manipur border (Dzukou Valley).
The Simlipal National Park in Odisha saw a major fire between February-end and early March.
Recent fires also include those in Bandhavgarh Forest Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, and in sanctuaries for the Asiatic lion and the great Indian bustard in Gujarat.

Forest fires in India

According to the India State Forest Report 2019, 21.67% of India’s geographical area is forest. Of that, Forests in Assam, Mizoram and Tripura have been identified as extremely fire-prone.



Causes of forest fires

Anthropogenic(90% of all wildfires)

  • Smoking: Leaving cigarette butts and matches are a major cause of forest fires as per Telangana Forest Department.
  • Deliberate burning for cultivation or to get better fodder crop: eg. In Central India, forest fires are caused to increase the production of tendu leaves.
  • Collection of NTFP unintentionally causes forest fire eg. Mahua flower collection in North-central India.
  • Accidental Causes : Campfires, Burning debris, Fireworks etc
  • Slash and burn cultivation  eg. Jhum cultivation is a major cause in north east. According to Forest Survey of India, about 4.3 mha are affected.)


Impact of forest fires

  • Destroys  animal habitat which leads to increase in man-animal conflicts
  • Loss of ecosystems and biodiversity due to destruction eg. Himalayan forest fires destroy biodiversity in the Himalayan hotspot.
  • Affects livelihood : According to the 2011 census, 1.70 lakh villages in India have proximity to forests, which would be affected by forest fires.
  • Air pollution due to release of smoke particles, release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane etc eg. Nepal had to shut schools last month due to decline in air quality due to forest fires, Delhi air quality declined due to Uttarakhand fires.
  • Soil degradation kills valuable microorganisms responsible for soil fertility, lead to soil erosion and decline in nutrients like soil carbon, nitrogen etc
  • Destruction of watersheds: Almost all water comes from forest derived water tables could be affected.
  • Aggravates global warming : forest serve as Green Carbon sinks and loss of forests leads to decreased carbon sequestration by trees

Efforts to mitigate forest fires

  1. Forest Fire Alert System(FFAS) by FSI – monitors wildfires in real time; newer version uses satellite data from NASA and ISRO.
  2. MODIS(Moderate Resolution Imaging Radiospectrometer)sensors- Real time information regarding forest fires to FSI.
  3. National Action Plan on Forest Fires(2018) by MoEFCC – to minimize forest fires by informing, enabling and empowering forest fringe communities and incentivizing them to work in tandem with the State Forest Departments.
  4. Forest Fire Prevention and Management scheme – replaced the Intensification of Forest Management Scheme (IFMS) in 2017. By revamping the IFMS, the FPM has increased the amount dedicated for forest fire work. Nodal officers for forest fire prevention and control have been appointed in each state.

What needs to be done?

  • Van panchayats – should be given rights and incentives for protecting the forests.(inculcate a sense of belonging among local communities).
  • Capacity development of forest departments’ officials at different levels
  • Creating forests fire control manuals for field staff.
  • Waterholes – should be developed across the mountains to recharge groundwater and maintain moisture in the soil.
  • Increase awareness among local communities to so that they can act as first responders

Way forward

Forest fires are necessary to clean up the dead and decaying matter in the forest. Further, they can help forests to regenerate. But we have to keep them at the optimum level. Otherwise as Dorothy Stang once remarked, the death of forest could be the end of our lives.

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