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Forest Fire UPSC NOTE

 What causes forest fire?

  • Forest fires can be ignited by both natural and human-caused factors

  • Natural Causes: Lightning strikes are a common culprit, especially during dry periods when vegetation is more flammable. 

  • Volcanic eruptions and spontaneous combustion of dry organic matter can also spark fires.

  • Human Causes: Unfortunately, human carelessness is a major cause of forest fires.

  • Discarded cigarettes, campfires left unattended, and sparks from machinery can all easily ignite dry leaves and undergrowth

  • Deliberate arson is another threat.

Three types of forest fires 

  • There are three main types of forest fires, each burning in different parts of the ecosystem and behaving in distinct ways:

  • Surface Fires: These are the most common type of forest fire

  • They burn the leaves, twigs, and other fallen debris on the forest floor

  • Surface fires can range in intensity from low-severity fires that creep along the ground to high-severity infernos that can race across the landscape.

  • Ground Fires: These fires burn underground in the organic matter such as peat moss and leaf litter below the surface

  • They can smolder for days or even weeks, hidden beneath the surface layer of soil

  • Ground fires can be difficult to detect and extinguish, and they can flare up again if conditions become favorable.

  • Crown Fires: The most dangerous and destructive type of forest fire.

  • Crown fires race through the tops of trees

  • The flames can spread rapidly from tree to tree.

  • Driven by strong winds and fueled by leaves, needles, and branches

  • Crown fires can be extremely difficult to control and can leave behind a landscape of devastation.

Why is Uttarakhand an easy target for forest fire?

  • During 2003–2017, a total of 5,20,861 active forest fire events were detected in India.

  • According to the report of the Forest Survey of India, over 54% of the forest cover in India is exposed to occasional fire.

  • There are four forest-fire clusters in India-

  1. The North-Western Himalayas, 

  2. North-East India, 

  3. Central Ghats, and 

  4. Western and Eastern Ghats. 

  • Fires in the North-Western Himalayas are attributed to the preponderance of pine trees and the accumulation of thick flammable litter

  • In the summer, there is a large quantity of pine needles that gathers on the forest floor, which is highly susceptible to fire.

  • A study published in Science of the Total Environment in July 2020, the occurrence of high fire intensity at the low altitude Himalayan hilly regions may also be due to the proximity to villages.

  • In addition to the plant species (pine trees).

  • Villages make forests susceptible to anthropogenic activities like forest cover clearance, grazing and so on.

  • This study used remote sensing–based models to measure primary productivity over an area and also looked at burn indices.

  • Which help to demarcate the forest fire burn scars using satellite imagery. 

  • The normalized burn ratio is an effective burn index commonly used to identify burnt regions in large fire zones. 

  • In normal conditions, healthy vegetation exhibits a very high reflectance in the near-infrared spectral region and considerably low reflectance in the shortwave infrared spectral region. 

  • The team noted that States of northeast India, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are the most fire-prone in India.

  • Studies have also shown that a,

  • Sharp increase in average and maximum air temperature 

  • Decline in precipitation, and 

  • Change in land-use patterns have caused increasing episodes of forest fires in most Asian countries.

  • Of course, local community patterns are also responsible for instances of forest fire. 

  • Till April 25, Uttarakhand’s forest department registered 146 cases of ‘man-made’ fire incidents. 

  • Recently, three men were arrested and sent to jail for reportedly starting forest fires in Jakholi and Rudraprayag in Uttarakhand. 

  • Sheep herder Naresh Bhatt of Tadiyaal village of Jakholi was reportedly caught in the act while setting a fire in the forest

  • During interrogation, Bhatt said he started the fire to grow new grass for grazing his sheep.

How can forest fires be tackled?

  • Forest fires can be tackled through a two-pronged approach: 

  • Prevention and Firefighting.

Prevention:

  • Controlled Burns: This involves intentionally setting small, controlled fires under specific weather conditions

  • It helps reduce built-up flammable materials on the forest floor, making it less likely for a large wildfire to erupt.

  • Public Awareness Campaigns: Educating people about safe campfire practices, responsible disposal of cigarettes, and adherence to local fire restrictions can significantly reduce human-caused fires.

  • Forest Management: Maintaining healthy forests through practices like thinning trees and clearing brush can decrease the amount of fuel available for a fire to spread.

Firefighting:

  • Early Detection: Lookout towers, aerial surveillance, and advanced technologies are used to spot fires early when they are small and easier to contain.

  • Ground Crews: Firefighters on the ground work directly to extinguish flames, using hand tools, hoses, and fire retardant.

  • Air Support: Helicopters and airplanes can be deployed to drop water or fire retardant on the flames, especially in difficult-to-reach areas.

  • Backfiring: This controlled burning technique creates a fire ahead of the main blaze, consuming fuel and creating a barrier to slow the wildfire's spread.

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