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Fire fury: Why North Indian hills face catastrophic Fire annually?

Amritanshu Raj

The forests of Uttarakhand are once again ablaze with the fury of forest fires, wreaking havoc on its delicate ecosystem. As the summer sun beats down relentlessly, over one thousand incidents of forest fires have already been reported this year, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. The root cause of this annual catastrophe? Human activity, accounting for more than 99% of the infernos that ravage these pristine woodlands.

Forest fires have become an increasingly prevalent occurrence in India, with alarming statistics revealing the severity of the issue. According to data from MODIS and SNPP-VIIRS sensors, a staggering 52,785 and 3,45,989 forest fires were respectively detected during the forest fire season from November 2020 to June 2021.

The nation’s diverse forest types are not spared, with severe fires predominantly affecting dry deciduous forests, while evergreen, semi-evergreen, and montane temperate forests exhibit comparatively lower susceptibility.

Reports from the Indian State of Forest Report (ISFR) indicate that over 36% of the country’s forest cover is prone to frequent fires, with 4% deemed extremely susceptible and 6% categorized as very highly fire prone.

Forest inventory records reveal that 54.40% of India’s forests face occasional fires, 7.49% encounter moderately frequent fires, and 2.40% experience high incidence levels, while 35.71% remain untouched by significant fire events.

(Source:https://fsi.nic.in/forest-fire-activities#:~:text=More%20than%2036%25%20of%20the,fire%20prone%20(ISFR%202019)%20.)

While nature occasionally plays a role, such as power grid failures triggered by heavy storms, the primary culprit remains human negligence. This year’s conflagration has been exacerbated by a harsh winter with scant rainfall, leaving the grass tinder-dry and susceptible to ignition. Tragically, some even allege that forest department personnel set fires to mask their failed plantation endeavors, adding insult to injury.

 

Reasons Behind the Wildfire Crisis

 

Human Activity

This calamity is predominantly fueled by human negligence. Startling statistics reveal that over 99% of these infernos are sparked by human activity, highlighting a systemic failure to coexist harmoniously with nature.

 

Winter’s Wrath

This year’s conflagration has been exacerbated by a harsh winter characterized by scant rainfall, leaving the region’s verdant woodlands parched and vulnerable to ignition. A significant decrease in precipitation levels during the winter months, setting the stage for a catastrophic wildfire season.

 

Forest Department Personnel

Amidst the chaos, troubling allegations have surfaced implicating forest department personnel in setting fires to conceal their failed plantation endeavors. Disturbingly, data corroborates a surge in man-made forest fires, raising serious questions about accountability and transparency within the department.

 

Villagers’ Role: Tradition Versus Survival

Villagers emerge as both savior and unwitting contributors to the crisis. Figures highlights a range of motives driving their actions, from traditional practices like regenerating grass for the monsoon to pragmatic measures aimed at mitigating human-wildlife conflicts.

 

Youthful Recklessness

In a concerning trend reflective of modern times, data reveals a spike in wildfires ignited by reckless individuals seeking validation on social media platforms. The recent arrest of youths filming their exploits underscores the perilous consequences of unchecked hubris and irresponsibility in the digital age.

 

Community Intervention leads a beacon of Hope

In the face of such calamity, the importance of community involvement cannot be overstated. While the forest department mobilizes its resources, precious time is lost in transit to the affected areas. In contrast, local villagers can swiftly respond, providing crucial early intervention to contain the blaze before it spirals out of control.

Yet, this year’s wildfire season has exacted a heavy toll, claiming four lives and leaving several others with severe burns. Miraculously, the state forest department reports no loss of animal life, although over 16 hectares of land lie scorched, and 427 trees have succumbed to the flames.

Amidst the desolation, a ray of hope emerges with the much-awaited arrival of rain. Recent showers in Bageshwar and Pithoragarh districts have provided a respite, quelling the flames and offering a reprieve to weary residents. The Indian Meteorological Department’s forecast of further rainfall in the coming days brings a collective sigh of relief, as prayers are offered for nature’s mercy to extinguish the inferno and restore normalcy to life.

 

Government Action and Accountability

In response to the escalating crisis, Chief Minister Dhami has imposed a week-long ban on stubble burning, urging officials to prevent the incineration of waste in and around forests by civic bodies.

With over 900 incidents of forest fires in the past six months alone, the need for stringent measures to curb human-induced infernos has never been more pressing.

Moreover, authorities have taken steps to hold accountable those responsible for igniting these blazes. With 351 cases of “man-made” forest fires registered, implicating both named individuals and unidentified suspects, efforts are underway to ensure justice for the devastation wrought upon Uttarakhand’s pristine wilderness.

 

Disrupting the Fire Triangle

Forest authorities advocate for proactive measures to mitigate the risk of wildfires. By eliminating fuel sources such as Chir Pine needles, notorious for their high flammability, the intensity of forest fires can be reduced.

Disrupting the ‘fire triangle’, which encompasses fuel, heat, and oxygen necessary for ignition, holds the key to safeguarding Uttarakhand’s natural heritage for future generations.

The wildfire crisis gripping Uttarakhand serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between human civilization and the untamed wilderness.

As communities unite in the battle against nature’s fury, it is imperative that we heed the lessons learned and take decisive action to prevent such calamities from recurring.

For in the heart of these scorched forests lies not just devastation but the promise of renewal and resilience in the face of adversity.

Forest fires pose a significant threat to Uttarakhand, causing harm to people, wildlife, and the environment. However, there are signs of progress and hope. Recent rainfall and government regulations have aided in firefighting efforts, and the active involvement of local communities has proven invaluable.

Moving forward, it is essential to learn from past experiences and implement measures to better protect our forests. This includes measures such as preventing the burning of waste near forested areas and reducing the presence of highly flammable materials like dry pine needles.

By collectively taking responsibility and implementing proactive strategies, we can safeguard Uttarakhand’s natural treasures for future generations. Let us unite in our commitment to preserve and nurture our forests, ensuring their beauty and biodiversity endure for years to come.

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