Wildfires/Forest-Fires

Wildfires/Forest-Fires

News: Recently, Wildfires in US, Canada and several European countries have resulted in loss of lives, damage to infrastructure.

Background:
• We will understand Forest Fires in the Indian context as our country itself is vulnerable to Forest Fires. India’s Vulnerability:
• More than 36% of India’s forest cover is prone to frequent Forest fires.
• 6% is ‘very highly’ fire-prone, and almost 4% is ‘Extremely’ prone. (According to India State of Forest Report, 2021)

What are Wildfires?
• Wildfires, also known as forest fires, bushfires, or vegetation fires, are uncontrolled fires that spread rapidly across wildland areas, including forests, grasslands, shrublands, and other natural landscapes.
• Recent example of wildfire in India – Sariska Tiger reserve, Rajasthan (2022) and Simlipal Tiger reserve, Odisha (2021)

What are factors responsible for Wildfires?

Weather conditions
• Dry conditions, including low humidity levels, create a conducive environment for wildfires.
• Strong winds can rapidly spread wildfires by carrying embers over long distances, creating spot fires ahead of the main fire front.
• High temperatures increase the evaporation of moisture from vegetation, making it more susceptible to ignition.

Fuel Availability
• Dry, dead, or overgrown vegetation provides ample fuel for wildfires. Drought conditions can lead to dry vegetation that ignites easily.

Human Actitivities
• Unattended campfires, Cigarette Butts, Power lines and Equipment sparks.

Lightning
• Natural causes, such as lightning strikes, can ignite wildfires. Lightning can directly hit trees or vegetation, creating a spark that starts a fire.

Climate Change
• Prolonged drought conditions, often exacerbated by climate change, can dry out vegetation and create conditions ripe for wildfires.
• Altered weather patterns, including shifts in rainfall and temperature, can lead to increased fire risk in certain regions.

What are the impact of Wildfires?
• On Environment – Changes in microclimate, release of vast quantities of CO2, increased soil erosion, changed soil composition.
• Socio-Economic impacts – Affects livelihood of people engaged or reliant on Forest ecosystem.
• Forced Displacement – Natives might as well have to leave their homes and settle elsewhere as damage caused due to wildfires can be lifelong. For example, Recent Wildfires in Maui, Hawaai island has resulted in indigenous tribes vacating their homes.
• On Forest ecosystem – Loss of animals, habitat structure and loss in Forest cover.

What are the initiatives/policies taken by India?
• National Action Plan on Forest Fires (NAPFF) 2018 – Comprehensive Plan on Forest fires which aims to minimize Forest fire risks and damage, enhance community participation and promote awareness.
• Initiatives by Forest Survey of India (FSI) – Near Real-Time Forest Fire monitoring and issuing alert, Early Warning alert based on Forest fire danger rating system and FSI Van Agni Geoportal.
• The Forest Fire Prevention and Management Scheme (FFPMS) - This is a centrally sponsored scheme that provides financial assistance to the states for forest fire prevention and management activities.
• The Joint Forest Management (JFM) Programme - This is a participatory approach that involves local communities in the protection and management of forests.

Way Forward
• Dedicated Institutional mechanism within Forest department covering all aspects of Forest Fire management.
• Develop and update forest fire manuals.
• Empower communities and local authorities and also encourage traditional fire management practices into the policy. 

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