This summer, forest fires have impacted an area of over 4,300 hectares in Uttarakhand, making it one of the most damaging wildfires in the state’s 18-year history. Gupta, the nodal officer for forest fires and disaster management, says lack of resources to detect and douse fires remains the biggest challenge
Uttarakhand is witnessing a repeat of the 2016 forest fires.
After the 2016 experience, last year, the Uttarakhand Forest Department deployed up to 6,000 fire-watchers in mid-February, which is the beginning of the forest fire season. More people on the ground helped detect and douse fires faster, so, in 2017, 1,244.64 hectares got impacted by wildfires, which was significantly lower than the 4,433.75 hectares the fires had impacted in 2016.
How are forest fires detected and doused?
Based on satellite data, the Forest Survey of India (FSI) sends regular alerts on fires to the Forest Department. We forward the information to the master control rooms (MCRs), which in turn forward the alerts to the crew stations from where forest guards and fire-watchers reach the location mentioned in the fire alert. If water is available, then it is used to douse the fires. However, in villages and inside forest areas, we either beat the fire out or start counter-fires to douse the fires. Uttarakhand has 40 MCRs and 1,437 crew stations, and up to 10,000 people are engaged in detecting and dousing forest fires.
What are the challenges in detecting and dousing forest fires?
Lack of resources, especially funds, is the biggest challenge while dealing with forest fires. In 2017, expenditure related to forest fires was Rs 18 crore and it was a struggle to get the amount sanctioned and make the required payments. This year, we had requested that Rs 60 crore be allocated for forest fires, but only Rs 12.5 crore was sanctioned.
What are the reasons behind the fires?
Over 90 per cent of the forest fires are man-made as villagers set the forests on fire in the hope of fresh grass. Also, as temperature rises, highly inflammable materials in the forests get ignited, leading to the fires. Among other reasons are the timber mafia setting forests on fire and people’s negligence, where they casually drop a lit cigarette or bidi.
What does the Forest Department plan to do next?
Other than the measures already in place, there’s need for post-fire management. Soil and moisture conservation needs to be carried out in areas impacted by the fires. We need to recruit more people during the forest fire season. Also, four forest staffers suffered burn injuries while dousing fires, so we need to equip them with appropriate gear.