India PUNE: The state forest department is employing modern technology to track and contain fires in forest areas during the coming summer months.
In a first, the Van Bhavan office in Nagpur would use satellite imaging of fires in remote areas, then relays the information to staff on the ground.
Assistant principal chief conservator of forests protection, R S Yadav told TOI that the satellite imaging would be provided by the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) in Hyderabad. “Using geographical information system (GIS) technology, the NRSC detects fires. They also have a database of our forest guards, officers and conservators. They directly contact the respective guards and officers with the location of the incident within their range,” he explained.
The remote sensing system has been in place since December. “It has already detected 1,200-odd fire incidents across the state till February-end. However, these include all fire incidents, not just forest fires. In addition, not all incidents reported have been large-scale fires,” Yadav explained.
According to the official, the biggest advantage is the response and resolution time, which has been cut down from around 24 hours to around two to three hours. The response is still carried out by ground staff.
“We have designated 6 persons in each forest range station as rapid response teams. In addition to that, fire watchers working in three shifts – six per shift – will also be stationed at various watchtowers across the range to report and update the forest personnel incase of an incident,” he said.
The entire process is monitored from a command centre office at Van Bhavan, where officials track the fire incident, and manage personnel on the ground.
Deputy conservator of forest (territorial) for Pune, Satyjit Gujar said that the major cause behind such fires was human presence in the area.
“There is not a single forest fire in Maharashtra that hasn’t taken place without human interference. Be it littering by tourists or pilgrims, or other causes such as fires sparked by vehicles,” he said.
Fire lines have already been identified and set up in all major forests during January. “These lines are cleared of any dry foliage or combustible material so that in case there is a fire, these lines act as barriers and contain it. In February, we engaged fire watchers through various joint forest management committees of villages located in and around forest areas. They will respond to and inform our forest guards about fires in their vicinity,” said Gujar.
Success of Sinhagad watchers
According to Gujar, “The idea of having fire watchers has worked successfully around the Sinhagad Fort area in the last three years, where we have employed about 30 villagers. They are paid from the entry fees paid by visitors and tend to all issues of the forest area and inform us of any fires or other mishaps there.”