India – India lost more than 57,000 sq km of jungles an area larger than Himachal Pradesh – in forest fire in 2014, says India’s first scientific estimation of forest fire losses.
The total burnt area under vegetation cover (forest, scrub and grasslands) was 57,127.75 sq km, which in 2014 accounts for almost 7% of India’s forest cover.
The highest burnt area was recorded in the Deccan zone followed by North East and Western Ghats. No fire was seen in the Himalayas and the islands in that year.
State wise, the maximum burnt area was recorded in Odisha (9502 sq km) followed by Andhra Pradesh (7850 sq km), Maharashtra (6843 sq km), Chhattisgarh (4923 sq km), Tamil Nadu (4613 sq km), Madhya Pradesh (3963 sq km), Telangana (3493 sq km), Jharkhand (2719 sq km) , Manipur (2497 sq km)and Karnataka (2254 sq km), says space scientists who carried out the analysis using satellite images.
The area of woods under fire increased by almost four times in the last two decades. A 1995 research estimated that about 14,500 sq km of forests were affected by fire in that area.
Notwithstanding the conservation measures, fires continue to be an annual phenomenon in Indian forests. Even though the 1988 National Forest Policy calls for forest protection against encroachment, grazing and fires, there was little action on the ground.
About 10 days ago, two such forest fires at Mount Abu and Mukundra hills in Rajasthan were doused by the Indian Air Force with support from the Army and state administration.
More than 79% of the burnt area is from the Deccan states, followed by the North East, Western Ghats and the semi arid zones. The maximum fire takes place in jungles having dry deciduous forests, followed by moist deciduous forests.
The Eastern Ghats are more prone to fires because of having mostly dry deciduous forests, space scientist C Sudhakar Reddy from Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre, who led the study told DH.
The fire season spreads from February to June, when the temperature hovers above the 40 degrees Celsius mark in several parts of India.
The scientists, however, pointed out that most of the fires in India are ground fire, which does not lead to loss of canopy cover. The 2015 India State of Forest report pegged the total area under forest and tree cover at 7,94,245 sq km.
Of the 640 districts in India, 387 (60.47%) districts show forest fires. Burnt area of more than 000 sq km was recorded in 10 districts of India. They are Cuddapah, Prakasam, Chittoor and Kurnool of Andhra Pradesh; Gadchiroli of Maharashtra; Sambalpur of Odisha; Khammam of Telangana; Vellore and Dharmapuri of Tamil Nadu and Raipur of Chhattisgarh.
Burnt area class of 500 1000 sq km was distributed in 17 districts, which include Chamrajnagar (Karnataka).
The analysis by NRSC, Indian Space Research Organisation, Bengaluru and Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram has been reported in the journal Current Science, published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bengaluru.