uttarakhand-forest-fires-in-chilling-winters-detailed-analysis-of-forest-fires-causes-effects-and-managements

What is the news ?

  • In these chilling winter months , Uttarakhand recorded forest fires than the four-month period from February in which these blazes usually occur, government data shows. It’s freezing in Uttarakhand but the forests are on fire.
  • In fact, the number of incidents during the forest fire season—a major part of which coincided with the Covid-19 lockdown—was the lowest in the last 20 years.
  • As per Forest Department records, there were 185 wildfires from October 1 to December 1, affecting 245 hectares of forests. Over 4,600 trees and 1,600 plant saplings were impacted in these fires which broke out in the hilly areas of Garhwal and Kumaon regions, leading to an estimated loss of Rs 6.9 lakh.
  • The ‘fire season’ is likely to be a year-long phenomenon due to rising temperature, according to state forest minister Harak Singh Rawat.

State forest officials called these incidents untimely.

  • Divisional forest officer (DFO) of Kedarnath where fires have been raging this winter, said the fires in winters were unusual. The town did not witness any forest fire in summers. He said a lack of soil moisture due to a weak monsoon may have aided the spread, but the state would probe if the fires were man-induced.  
  • The state recorded 236 wildfire incidents between October 1, 2020 and January 4, 2021. Reserve forests in the Garwal region lost 129 hectares of forest cover (out of total 188 hectares) to 96 counts of fire incidents. Civil forests recorded 51 counts of wildfire incidents.
  • Reserve forests in Kumaon region lost 89.52 hectares of forest cover to 64 counts of fire incidents; civil forest lost 44.35 hectares to 25 counts. The fires caused a loss of Rs 460,110 to the state.
  • The city experienced low rainfall between October and December. “It was largely a dry monsoon. The city experienced 71 per cent deficit rain between October and December.
  • The region usually records 60.5 millimetres of rainfall annually; it was merely 17.8 mm in 2020. In 2019, it recorded 114.2 mm rainfall; 25.5 mm in 2018; 21.3 mm in 2017 and 16.2 mm in 2016.
  • The fire season would last an entire year. Forest fires are directly linked to soil moisture. The forest rivers are drying up.
  • A weak monsoon subsequently leading to less moisture in the soil as well as insufficient snowfall this season aided fire spread.
  • In such a situation, a tiny spark of fire can spread far and wide.

The Supreme Court January 4 heard a plea on Uttarakhand fires. The court will hear the matter again in a week.

Uttarakhand has lost 44,000 hectares of forest cover since it became a state in 2000.   

Forest Fires :

  • Forest fires pose a threat not only to the forest wealth but also to the entire regime to fauna and flora seriously disturbing the bio-diversity and the ecology and environment of a region. During summer, when there is no rain for months, the forests become littered with dry senescent leaves and twinges, which could burst into flames ignited by the slightest spark. The Himalayan forests, particularly, Garhwal Himalayas have been burning regularly during the last few summers, with colossal loss of vegetation cover of that region.
  • Forest fire causes imbalances in nature and endangers biodiversity by reducing faunal and floral wealth. Traditional methods of fire prevention are not proving effective and it is now essential to raise public awareness on the matter, particularly among those people who live close to or in forested areas.

CAUSES OF FOREST FIRE

Forest fires are caused by Natural causes as well as Man-made causes

  • Natural causes- Many forest fires start from natural causes such as lightning which set trees on fire. However, rain extinguishes such fires without causing much damage. High atmospheric temperatures and dryness (low humidity) offer favourable circumstance for a fire to start.
  • Man-made causes- Fire is caused when a source of fire like naked flame, cigarette or bidi, electric spark or any source of ignition comes into contact with inflammable material.

Traditionally Indian forests have been affected by fires. The menace has been aggravated with rising human and cattle population and the consequent increase in demand for Forest products by individuals and communities. Causes of forest fires can be divided into two broad categories: environmental (which are beyond control) and human related (which are controllable).

Environmental causes are largely related to climatic conditions such as temperature, wind speed and direction, level of moisture in soil and atmosphere and duration of dry spells. Other natural causes are the friction of bamboos swaying due to high wind velocity and rolling stones that result in sparks setting off fires in highly inflammable leaf litter on the forest floor.

Human related causes result from human activity as well as methods of forest management.  These can be intentional or unintentional, for example:

  • graziers and gatherers of various forest products starting small fires to obtain good grazing grass as well as to facilitate gathering of minor forest produce like flowers of Madhuca indica and leaves of Diospyros melanoxylon
  • the centuries old practice of shifting cultivation (especially in the North-Eastern region of India and in parts of the States of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh).
  • the use of fires by villagers to ward off wild animals
  • fires lit intentionally by people living around forests for recreation
  • fires started accidentally by careless visitors to forests who discard cigarette butts.

The causes of forest fire have been increasing rapidly. The problem has been accentuated by the growing human and cattle population. People enter forests ever more frequently
to graze cattle, collect fuelwood, timber and other minor forest produce. It has been estimated that 90% of forest fires in India are man-made

Classification of Forest Fire
Forest fire can broadly be classified into three categories;

  • Natural or controlled forest fire.
  • Forest fires caused by heat generated in the litter and other biomes in summer through carelessness of people (human neglect) and
  • Forest fires purposely caused by local inhabitants.

Types of Forest Fire
There are two types of forest fire i) Surface Fire and ii) Crown Fire

Surface Fire-
A forest fire may burn primarily as a surface fire, spreading along the ground as the surface litter (senescent leaves and twigs and dry grasses etc) on the forest floor and is engulfed by the spreading flames.

Crown Fire-
The other type of forest fire is a crown fire in which the crown of trees and shrubs burn, often sustained by a surface fire. A crown fire is particularly very dangerous in a coniferous forest because resinous material given off burning logs burn furiously. On hill slopes, if the fire starts downhill, it spreads up fast as heated air adjacent to a slope tends to flow up the slope spreading flames along with it. If the fire starts uphill, there is less likelihood of it spreading downwards.

EFFECT OF FOREST FIRE

Fires are a major cause of forest degradation and have wide ranging adverse ecological, economic and social impacts, including:

  • loss of valuable timber resources
  • degradation of catchment areas
  • loss of biodiversity and extinction of plants and animals
  • loss of wildlife habitat and depletion of wildlife
  • loss of natural regeneration and reduction in forest cover
  • global warming
  • loss of carbon sink resource and increase in percentage of CO2 in atmosphere
  • change in the microclimate of the area with unhealthy living conditions
  • soil erosion affecting productivity of soils and production
  • ozone layer depletion
  • health problems leading to diseases
  • loss of livelihood for tribal people and the rural poor, as approximately 300 million people are directly dependent upon collection of non-timber forest products from forest areas for their livelihood.