Forest Fire and its Management


The altered weather pattern is impacting the various aspects of Union Territory of J&K including the recent surge in forest fires. It has been observed that about 1-2 per cent of the world’s forests areas are engulfed by the forest fires every year. Fire in the forests is the most common hazard. These fires contribute to an annual carbon emission ranging from 2.5 to 4.0 billion tons of CO2 causing huge loss to both flora and fauna. Forest fire poses a serious threat to the forest wealth and also to the biodiversity and ecology and environment of the region. High frequency of forest fire drastically alters the species diversity, structure of the forests and regeneration of plants within the forest. It causes imbalance in nature and reduces the floral and faunal wealth. Regular fire affects the water availability by decreasing soil moisture and humus content in the soil. Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is abundant with the unique and diversified floral and faunal wealth. It is one of the most beautiful tourists’ destinations in the world. J&K is one of the richest areas of bio-diversity in India.Jammu and Kashmir is a forest rich UT and the forests of J&K are economically very rich and have great benefits.J&K is endowed with diverse forest covers and snow covers that are integral parts of its cultural heritage, ecology and livelihood.The national level goal in forestry is to cover at least two thirds of the total area in the hilly regions under forests and trees cover. Forests were generally vested with the government especially after 1947 but usufruct rights of local communities, ethnic groups and tribes continued to be part of management. Irrespective of ownership, forests were treated as open or community resources of local population in the limited sense of traditional rights.
Union Territory of J&K is bestowed with different types of forests ranging from sub-tropical to moist temperate and alpines.Per capita forests and tree cover in J&K is about 0.15 ha which is almost double the national average i.e. 0.07 ha. Around 40 per cent of the forest area in J& K is either dense or very dense. 60% of the total forest area falls in Jammu region and rest falls in Kashmir region. Forests play a significant role for the sustenance of livelihood of rural and urban people. Forests are important for power development, tourism, agriculture, horticulture etc. Fire is considered as the most destructive element.Forest fire poses a serious threat to the forest wealth. It can destroy all forms of life, can cause soil erosion, kills all micro-organisms and destroys the ecosystem that have been built up over a long period of time. Forests fire causes imbalance in nature and endangers biodiversity.Damage done by the forest fire can be mild or severe.Fire can damage the forest trees, forest soil and natural herbs, reduces the productive capacity of the forests, affects the wild animals, damages the scenic beauty of the forests, damages various other organisms in the forests etc. Forest fire increases the CO2 in the atmosphere thus affecting the microclimate of the area, causes the unhealthy living conditions, creates health related problems to the inhabitants, reduces the livelihood sources of the tribal people inhabiting in the forests etc.
In order to manage the forest fire some factors are really needed to be studied.Weather needs to be properly studied which determines the fire environment. Temperature and winds are very important factors for the forest fire. With the climate change rainfall pattern is also changing. Forest fire can be caused due to environmental factors or it can due to human related. Human related causes can be intentional or unintentional.If intermitted summer rains through westerly depressions are not there then it can be a major cause for forest fires. Forest fire do not occurs unless there is inflammable material such as dry grasses, shrubs, fallen leaves and fallen woods are available in the forest.The more the inflammable material available in the forest, the more severe will be the forest fire. Topography is another factor for the forest fire in the hilly areas. Fire spreads very fastly when it travels towards a hill slope but its spread slowly when it travels towards downhill.
Forest fires are of two types (i) Surface Fire and (ii)Crown Fire. Generally people think forest fire as normal fire and expect a quick control over it but actually it is very cumbersome to control and extinguish it especially from hilly areas. The fire usually starts naturally or intentionally froma particular spot in the forest area and then due to wind, inflammable material and topography spreads fast in one or another direction. It has been observed that about 95 per cent of forest fires are of anthropogenic origin i.e. attributed to human activities. Human induced fires may be intentional or may be due to carelessness. Natural forest fires result from occurrences such as lightening, rolling of stones or friction of forest shrubs. The speed, direction of spread, extent and shape of fire depends on wind, inflammable material and topography. If the fast wind is not blowing in the area at the time of start of the fire then it spreads in all directions slowly and thus assumes a circular shape. But if the wind is blowing in a particular direction then the fire spreads in that direction fastly and in other directions slowly. If inflammable material is available on a particular side then fire spreads in that particular direction fastly and slowly in other directions. The spread of fire in a hilly terrain is further affected by topographic factors, particularly the slope.
Over the years incidents of forest fires have increased abnormally in J&K. There is need to devise and execute the strategies to control the fire. Forest fire can be managed through different methods. Well equipped control rooms needs to beestablished withconnectivity by providing wireless sets, cell phones, transportation facilities etc. to the fire fighters. Proper training on forest fire management should be imparted to the concerned staff and local people, first aid kits for emergencies and tools,creation of fire lines and maintaining them in the subsequent years. There is need of the quick action to suppress the fire and the delay can be avoided by quick detection and immediate communication.There is need to deploy local fire watchers during the fire season and proper communication facilities should be provided to them. There should an arrangement of tools, food, water and light for the concerned people as the process of fire extinguishing can take some days. There are various conventional methods for fire extinguishing such as by water, by soil, by fire beating etc. Now-a-days helicopters are also being used to extinguish the fire which is a good initiative. While extinguishing fire there is need to bear non- synthetic fire proof clothing to protect the body from heat, use head gear and goggles from radiant heat, use footwear preferably leather boots, carry sufficient water to guard against desiccation by heat, carry first aid kit for emergencies, to plan for escape route in case of danger, to maintain communication between fire fighters.Fire research, fire management and extension programmes are needed.
A forest fire causes irreparable damage to wild life, biodiversity, water resources, forest based livelihoods and well being and changes heaven into hell within very less time. Fire control measures such as creation of fire lines, effective information and communication technologies (ICTs), defined responsibilities and introducing the incentives to the local communities living in the fringes of these forests for participation in the fire management must be developed. Training programmes with regard to fire fighting to government employees, local communities and interested rural youths/persons in order to create more awareness on causes and the control of forest fires should be arranged.Watch towers and other fire detecting systems should be developed in J&K. Awareness campaigns on fire damage, prevention, detection and communication and suppression should be launched by involving schools, Joint Forest Management (JFM) committees, Non-Government and other voluntary organizations well before the onset of fire season every year.Wide publicity on forest fire management should be done through pamphlets, handouts, circulars, posters, TV,radio, video tapes etc.A fire management research and training institute for foresters and public should be established in J&K for providing knowledge and skills. The forest officials are required to rehearsal and practice the fire suppression exercise involving the local community. Fire experiment stations should be set up in representative regions of J&K to study various effects of fires in different ecosystems and provide extension services to the concerned areas. Adequate financial support on forest fire management should be provided to the concerned departments. Research and Development (R&D) institutions dealing with forest fire management should be strengthened. There is need of proper coordination of forest department with other agencies, whose support may be very important in forest fire management. Various seminars, workshops, training programmes, conferences, study tours, webinars etc. should be organised on forest fire management. Awards for exemplary works in forest fire prevention, protection and suppression should also be distributed among the firefighters. Modern tools and machineries for firefighting should be made available to the firefighters. Remote sensing technology should be given due importance in detection of fire. Satellite data may be of quiet significance to evolve new innovative techniques in the field of forest fire management. Along with the satellite data many field-based attempts can also be made at various levels to collect forest fire statistics. Special focus should be given on research and training for forest fire management. There is need of serious efforts to tackle this menace in an effective and scientific way.
(The writer is Sr. Scientist & Head of KVK, Reasi SKUAST-J).

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