India — Believe it or not, but on an average four fire mishaps occur every day in the state’s forests, causing varying degrees of damage to its delicate flora and fauna. Satellite images reveal that there have been 15,856 forest fires in the last 10 years. On an average 1,585 forest fires are reported every year.
According to the latest State of Forest Report (SFR-2013 ), except the mangroves spread over 350 sq km, the others forests (63,814 sq km) of the state are prone to fires. “The fires in Andhra Pradesh are ‘ground fires’ in nature, which usually occur between November and May. Satellite data shows that March is the most susceptible month,” the report said. After the introduction of satellite imaging of forests about a decade ago, it was found that 24 per cent of the 18,000 forest compartments are prone to fires.
The SFR, however, admitted that forest fires can only be controlled not eliminated. SBL Mishra, additional principal chief conservator of forests , told TOI that the forest department has taken a number of measures to bring down the incidence of forest fires. “Our staff attends to every fire and puts out the flames before they spread to other areas, thus reducing the damage,” he said.
The most severely affected areas in the state are forest circles of Khammam (2,299 fires in 10 years), Warangal (2,047 fires), Rajahmundry (1,945) and parts of Srisailam Project Tiger area (2,070). Kurnool circle registered 1,585 and Tirupati 1,389 fires since 2004.
Most forest fires are manmade, say experts. They are either deliberately or accidentally caused by persons trying to collect non-timber forest produce like beedi leaf or to encroach upon lands for cultivation. Officials have identified Boda grass (Cymbopogon coloratus) as the main cause of fires in Nagarjunasagar tiger reserve and Rayalaseema regions , and production of tendu leaves (Diospyros melanoxylon) in Telangana . Mahua (Madhuca indica) also contributes to the fires when tribals collect Mahua flowers to produce the popular beverage or to boil with Sal seeds (Shorea robusta) as a seasonal grain substitute. They usually do this by clearing the growth below the trees by burning, causing the fire to sometimes spread.
The fires affect the regeneration of plants. Eucalyptus appears to suffer more than the indigenous species by way of reduced stocking and lower yields at maturity. “Repeated burning leads to site deterioration, changes in soil nutrient status and accelerated erosion due to destruction of the ground flora. This also reduces the rate of growth. Not only do uncontrolled fires burn down the vegetation but also lowers the organic matter, thereby increasing the frequency of flooding and causing soil erosion. Besides , wildlife patterns and habitat may be disrupted. The situation is exacerbated by lack of fire protection planning knowledge and incentive,” the State of Forest Report warns.