Unusual wildfires in Uttarakhand: Officials blame scanty rain, combustible material

07 January 2021

Published by https://www.hindustantimes.com/

INDIA – Accumulation of combustible material due to restrictions on movement in forests because of the Covid-19 pandemic and lack of rainfall led to unusual forest fires in Uttarakhand this autumn and winter, officials said on Thursday.

Forest fires are generally reported in Uttarakhand from February to June. They peak in May and June. Despite the onset of winter, forest fires were reported in the state and have damaged over 350 hectares of forestland since October.

“Due to the lockdown imposed in view of Covid-19 during the summer months, movement in the forests was restricted. Due to this, a lot of combustible material mostly pine needles was accumulated. These materials are cleared annually through controlled burning but the exercise was affected, which is one of the reasons for forest fires,” said Maan Singh, the state’s nodal officer for forest fires.

Singh said little rainfall during the post-monsoon period has also contributed to the fires. “…forests became dry and added with combustible material, forest fire incidents are continuing. With rainfall in the plains and snowfall in the upper reaches of the state, now forest fire incidents are likely to reduce especially in Oak forests which have received heavy snowfall,” said Singh. He added human activities in the forests following the end of the lockdown also led to some man-made fire incidents.

In Uttarakhand, 0.17% of the total forest cover comes under the extremely fire-prone, 1.60% under the very-highly prone, 9.32% under the highly-prone, 21.66% under the moderately prone, and 67.25% under less fire-prone categories.

Over 44,554 hectares of the forest area has been damaged in fires since 2000. Uttarakhand forest department has 174 watchtowers and 1,437 station crews across the state to check the fires.

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