INDIA – Forest officials said that the five-fold increase in the number of fire incidents in forests could be a result of better detection and collection of data.
After tying up with the National Remote Sensing Centre under Indian Space Research Organisation in Hyderabad since early 2016, the increase in number should be construed as better surveillance, control and management, said P Srivastava, additional principal chief conservator of forests (APCCF) for information technology and policy, state forest department. “In some cases, a forest fire incident sparked at isolated locations in one area is also construed as separate cases or alerts. This repetition of data also needs to be factored in.”
He added that locations in Maharashtra most prone to fire incidents are in Vidharbha – Melghat in Amravati district, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli and Gondia – that witness high temperatures in summer. “Temperatures rise as high as 45-46 degrees Celsius, and leaves, wood and wild grass in these teak forest areas are dry. Even a minor ignition, which may or may not be accidental, triggers a large fire, which is sometimes impossible to control,” said Srivastava.
HT had reported in January this year that tracking forest fires, felling of trees, illegal wildlife trade and poaching — all of these activities would be tracked across the state in real time from the confines of a room, using real-time satellite images of all forested areas in and around the state through a command control centre at Van Bhavan in Nagpur.
“Our focus is on two fronts to control this issue. We must enhance our surveillance to understand vulnerable areas, and the other is improving our soil and water conservation measures. Once there is moisture in these areas, it can play a significant role to control these fires,” said Srivastava.
Meanwhile, environmentalists said majority of the forest fires reported in the state are set off deliberately. “In the interior areas of the state, the tribal population set off the fires to hunt smaller animals and miscreants putting out cigarettes and bidis are also a major cause of the preliminary ignition. This is not confined to India alone, and is being witnessed across the world with huge wildfires reported from locations like Los Angeles, USA as well,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti. “It would be unfair to blame the forest department for this, but what they can do is improve and maintain the fire line within protected forest areas, so that fires do not spread fast.”