Forest fire in Australia in September 2019 and one in California in 2018 have claimed millions of wild life and destroyed 7 million hectares of forest and grass land. India too is not new to forest fires and in 2019 alone 30,000 forest fires were reported.
The total forest and tree cover of the country is 8,07,276 sq km which is 24.56% of the geographical area of the country. Fire prone forest areas of different severity classes have been mapped in the grids of 5km X 5km based on the frequency of forest fires. The analysis reveals that 21.40% of the forest cover of the country to extremely fire prone.
Forest Fires do occur every year during summer due to various natural and anthropogenic reasons including accumulation of inflammable materials such as dry leaves, twigs, pine needles etc. Most of forest fires in the country are ground fires in which ground vegetation, etc. get burnt. The number of incidents of forest fire in the country varies from year to year depending on various natural and anthropogenic reasons. What is surprising is the non-availability of accurate data as to the loss of human life and wild life due to forest fire. According to government data in last three years only one human life has been lost and there is no loss of wild life due to forest fire. Absence of mechanism to collect accurate data regarding loss of lives due to fire shows that forest fires have not been taken seriously at the government corridors in the country.
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has prepared a National Action Plan on Forest Fire in 2018 and this plan needs to be implemented on a priority basis. The action plan should focus on informing, enabling and empowering forest-fringe communities and incentivizing them to work in tandem with the State Forest Departments. Efforts should also be directed at substantially reducing the vulnerability of forests across diverse forest ecosystems in the country against fire hazards, enhance capabilities of forest personnel and institutions in fighting fires, and speed-up recovery after a fire event.
The Central government should support the efforts of State/Union Territory Governments in prevention and control of forest fire by providing financial assistance for various forest fire prevention and management measures such as creation and maintenance of fire lines in forest areas, engagement of fire watchers, creation of water storage structures in forest areas, strengthening of forest infrastructure, procurement of firefighting equipment, soil and moisture conservation works in high risk areas, awareness creation, incentivizing villages/communities for protection against forest fire etc.
It’s a matter of concern that large areas of degraded forest are now subject to burning on an annual or semi-annual basis. As these fires are no longer beneficial to forest health, India is increasingly wrestling with how to improve the prevention and management of unwanted forest fires. India is not alone in facing this challenge. Forest fires have become an issue of global concern. In many other countries, wildfires are burning larger areas, and fire seasons are growing longer due to a warming climate. With growing populations in and around the edges of forests, more lives and property is now at risk from fire. Therefore, the government should understand the gravity of the situation and increase its efforts in preventing the forest fire by using available modern technologies.