India’s one-third forest cover prone to frequent fires

Wildfire broke out in the Bandipur National Park on February 21, 2019, Karnataka, India. (File Pic)

More than one-third of India’s forest cover (35.46 %) is prone to frequent forest fires of which nearly 3 % is ‘Extremely Fire Prone’ while nearly 8 % of forest cover has been estimated to be ‘Very Highly Fire Prone’. As per official reports of Forest Survey of India (FSI), every year large areas of forests are affected by fires of varying intensity and extent.

As per data made available by the Union Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change, nearly 12% of the total 7,13,789 square kilometer of forest cover of the country was marked as ‘Highly Fire Prone’ while over 13 % of the forest cover was tagged as ‘Moderately Fire Prone’.

In a study based on spatial analysis of forest fires detected over the past 17 years (2004 to 2021), the Forest Survey of India (FSI) has identified fire prone forest areas in the country. Based on the study, the forest areas have been mapped under different fire prone categories.

Official reports revealed a significant 52,785 forest fires were detected using MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectro-radiometer) sensor while 3,45,989 forest fires were detected using SNPP-VIIRS (Suomi-National Polar-orbiting Partnership – Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite)in forest fire season from Nov 2020 to June 2021.

Forest types prone to fire

Severe fires occur in many forest types particularly dry deciduous forest, while evergreen, semi-evergreen and montane temperate forests are comparatively less prone.

Causes of Forest Fires In India

Natural causes are main source of forest fires such as lightning which sets trees on fire. However, rain extinguishes such fires without causing much damage. High atmospheric temperatures and dryness (low humidity) also offer favorable circumstance for a fire to start.

Measures taken to check Forest Fires

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has prepared a National Action Plan on Forest Fire to minimize forest fires. The plan comprises taking actions by informing, enabling and empowering forest fringe communities and incentivizing them to work in tandem with the Forest Department. It also comprises reducing vulnerability of forests against fire hazards, enhancing the capabilities of forest personnel and institutions in fighting fires, and speeding up recovery after a fire event. The Ministry has also constituted Central Monitoring Committee (CMC) for overseeing implementation of National Action Plan on Forest Fire.

Financial assistance to control Forest Fires

The Union ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change also supports efforts of States and Union Territories in prevention and control of forest fire by providing financial assistance. The forest fire prevention and mitigation measures are funded under the Centrally Sponsored Forest Fire Prevention and Management Scheme, Development of Wildlife Habitats, and under Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority. The funds are used for creation and maintenance of fire lines, construction of water conservation structures, procurement of firefighting equipment, awareness creation, and incentivizing villages and communities for protection against forest fire etc.

Loss caused by Forest Fires

Precious forest resources including wood besids carbon locked in the biomass is lost due to forest fires every year, which adversely impact the flow of goods and services from forests.

Technology helps mitigate Forest Fires

Satellite based remote sensing technology and GIS tools have been effective in better prevention and management of fires through creation of early warning for fire prone areas, monitoring fires on real time basis and estimation of burnt scars.

Technology has significantly helped in effective mitigation of forest fires through creation of Forest Fire Danger Rating System based on Fire Weather Index (FWI) of Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS), Monitoring Forest Fire detections and Large Forest Fire on real time basis and estimation of fire affected areas.

             Category   Forest Cover (in sq km)    % of total forest cover
       Extremely Fire Prone                20,074.47                   2.81
        Very Highly Fire Prone                56,049.35                   7.85
        Highly Fire Prone                82,900.17                 11.61
        Moderately Fire Prone                94,126.68                 13.19
        Less Fire Prone                4,60,638.36                 64.54
Total                7,13,789.03                100.00



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