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Monday, September 21, 2009

Causes, impacts and control of forest fires

The event of something burning is called as fire. An uncontrolled fire often occurring in wild land areas, but which can also consume houses or agricultural resources is called as forest fire. Wildfires tend to be most common and severe during years of drought and occur on days of strong winds. With extensive urbanization of forest lands, these fires often involve destruction of suburban homes located in the wild land urban interface, a zone of transition between developed areas and undeveloped wild land.

The term Forest Fire is also called as wildfire which refers to all uncontrolled fires that burn surface vegetation (grass, weeds, grain fields, brush, chaparral, tundra, and forest and woodland); often these fires also involve structures. In addition to the wildfires, several million acres of forest land are intentionally burned each year under controlled conditions to accomplish some silvicultural or other land-use objective or for hazard reduction.

Forest fires may be caused by many different types of factors. These factors are mentioned below-
1. Natural causes- fires caused by lightening, and fires caused by volcanic eruption,
2. Accidental causes- fires caused by spark from wheels of trains or certain locomotives, and other causes
3. Negligence – These causes include –
(i).Fires caused by cigarette stubs or matches- along roadways, - in rural areas, - in wooded areas, and along railway lines
(ii).Fires caused by agricultural and forestry activities- for the clearing of uncultivated land, for the clearing of plant residue (forestry and agricultural processing), for the renewal of pastures, for the burning of stubble, and - for the clearing of road and railway embankments
(iii). Fires caused by other forms of negligence- fires caused by recreational and tourist activities, - fires caused by the firing of fire-crackers and rockets, blasting of landmines or explosive, - fires caused by the use of motor, flame, electric or mechanical devices, - fires caused by military maneuvers or shooting exercises , fires caused by the burning of waste in illegal dumps, fires caused by bad maintenance of electrical lines or by the breakage or falling of wires, and fires caused by negligence not otherwise defined.

Other causes
(I) - Fires caused in connection with profit seeking-Examples of these causes include - fires caused by the creation or renewal of pastures at the expense of forests; fires caused by the will to regain agricultural terrain at the expense of forests for cultivation or to activate funding from European Union; fires caused with the intent of earning from the removal of vegetation for the purpose of agricultural cultivation ; fires caused with the intent of earning from the removal of vegetation for the purpose of building speculation; fires caused with the intent of seeking advantage (opening of forestry trails, agricultural operations to save on labour, destruction of forestry mass) ;fires caused by occupational questions related to laborers hired by local administrations; fires caused with the intent of destroying by fire badly executed forestry operations; fires caused with the intent of being included in firefighting efforts; fires caused by inappropriate activity referable to poaching; fires caused to obtain products deriving from fire passage ,fires caused by organized crime.

(II) - Fires due to manifestations of protest, resentment or insensitivity toward forests- fires caused as revenge or retaliation against public administration ,fires caused by conflicts between or revenge against owners, fires caused as protest against limitations imposed in conservation areas, fires caused for fun or games by minors, fires caused with the intent of devaluing tourist areas, fires caused by matters relating to political contrast, fires caused by terrorist acts, fires caused by dissatisfaction, social dissent, behavioral disturbances (pyromania and mythomania).

(III)- Fires due to dubious causes- fires caused by arson not otherwise defined.
Common causes of forest fire include lightning, human carelessness, slash-and-burn farming, arson, volcano eruption, pyroclastic cloud from active volcano, and underground coal fire. Heat waves, droughts, and cyclical climate changes such as El NiƱo can also dramatically increase the risk of wildfires.

There are two types of forest fire i) Surface Fire and ii) Crown Fire

Surface Fire-A forest fire may burn primarily as a surface fire, spreading along the ground as the surface litter (senescent leaves and twigs and dry grasses etc) on the forest floor and is engulfed by the spreading flames.

Crown Fire- The other type of forest fire is a crown fire in which the crown of trees and shrubs burn, often sustained by a surface fire. A crown fire is particularly very dangerous in a coniferous forest because resinous material given off burning logs burn furiously. On hill slopes, if the fire starts downhill, it spreads up fast as heated air adjacent to a slope tends to flow up the slope spreading flames along with it. If the fire starts uphill, there is less likelihood of it spreading downwards.

Forest Fires cause wide ranging adverse ecological, economic and social impacts. In a nutshell, forest fires cause following adverse impacts-
•Loss of valuable timber resources and depletion of carbon sinks
•Degradation of water catchment areas resulting in loss of water
•Loss of biodiversity and extinction of plants and animals
•Loss of wild life habitat and depletion of wild life
•Loss of natural regeneration and reduction in forest cover and production
•Global warming resulting in rising temperature
•Loss of carbon sink resource and increase in percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere
•Change in micro climate of the area making it unhealthy living conditions
•Soil erosion affecting productivity of soils and production
•Ozone layer depletion
•Health problems leading to diseases
•Indirect effects on agricultural production: Loss of livelihood for the tribals as approximately 65 million people are classified as tribals who directly depend upon collection of non-timber forest products from the forest areas for their livelihood.

After a countrywide study in 1995, the Forest Survey of India gathered data on fire fires. These data attribute about 50 percent of the forest area as fire-prone. Out of 63 million ha of forests in India 3.73 million ha can be presumed to be affected by fires annually. At this level the annual losses from forest fires in the country has been estimated at Rs.440 crore.

Impacts of Forest Fires on Biological Environment
Forest fires also pose serious health hazards by producing smoke and noxious gases, as the events in Indonesia after the forest fires on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in 1977 have shown. The burning of vegetation gives off not only carbon dioxide but also a host of other, noxious gases (Green house gases) such as carbon monoxide, methane, hydrocarbons, nitric oxide and nitrous oxide, that lead to global warming and ozone layer depletion. Consequently, thousands of people suffered from serious respiratory problems due to these toxic gases. Burning forests and grasslands also add to already serious threat of global warming. Recent measurement suggest that biomass burning may be a significant global source of methyl bromide, which is an ozone depleting chemical.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India issued guidelines for prevention and control of forest fires to all states in June 2000. Some of those important guidelines or measures of prevention and control of forest-fires in India are –

1.Identification and mapping of all fire-prone area.
2.Compilation and analysis of data-base on the damage due to forest fire.
3.Installation of Forest Danger Rating Systems and Fire-Forecasting Systems.
4.Items of forest protection to be treated as a Plan Item in order to raise their profile and thereby increase their Budget Allocation.
5.All preventive measures are to be taken before the beginning of the fire season like summer season.
6.Recruitment of a Nodal Officer to coordinate with various agencies including the Government of India on issues of forest-fire.
7. A ‘Crisis Management Group’ should be constituted at the state headquarters, district headquarters, and at block levels to monitor the situations during fire period, coordinate various preventive and control measures, and arrange adequate enforcement of men and materials in case of any eventuality.
8.Communication network to be set up for quick flow of information and movement of materials and man-power to the fire site.
9.JFM Committees and Forest Protection Committees are to be actively involved in the prevention and control of forest fires. Other people living in and around forest areas and getting benefits from the forest should also be involved actively.
10.Regular training of Government Staff and communities as Fire –Fighters should be organized by the government.
11.Public awareness should be created against ill effects of forest fires- a Fire -Week should be celebrated to create mass awareness.
12.Legal Provisions for fire prevention and control should be implemented forcefully.

Precautions: The followings are the important precautions against fire:
1. To keep the source of fire or source of ignition separated from Combustible and inflammable material.
2. To keep the source of fire under watch and control.
3. Not allow combustible or inflammable material to pile up unnecessarily and to stock the same as per procedure recommended for safe storage of
4. Such combustible or inflammable material.
5. To adopt safe practices in areas near forests viz. factories, coalmines, oil, stores, chemical plants and even in household kitchens.
6. To incorporate fire reducing and fire fighting techniques and equipment while planning a building or coal mining operation.
7. In case of forest fires, the volunteer teams are essential not only for fire fighting but also to keep watch on the start of forest and sound an alert
8. To arrange frequent fire fighting drills.

The Government of India has implemented a Master Plan called as Forest Fire Control and Management. This Master Plan is a blend of modern and Traditional methods and Technologies for which the Government has made provisions for the allocation of adequate funds. These are –
(a). Building up of a strong communication network of wireless system and satellite phone
(b). Arrangement of effective transportation
(c). Improved fire-resistant clothing
(d). Fire- finders
(e). Fire Tender or Tractor- trolley mounted with water tanker
(f). Back pack pumps
(g). Fire fighting machines, helicopters, fire extinguishing materials, Fire- retardant sprays by helicopters etc. and other technological innovations

In the Constitution of India, the subject of forests is on the Concurrent List. It means that the Central Government and State Governments are both competent to legislate on the issue of forest – fires etc. Issues relating to policy, planning, and finance are primarily the responsibly of the Government of India. On the other hand the field administration of forests is the responsibility of the different State Governments. Fire Prevention and Control Measures are therefore carried out by the State Departments of Forest.

In India, forests are protected and managed through well prepared Forest- Working Plans, and Prevention and Control of Forest- fires has always been at the place of priority. Some of the important prescriptions included in the working plans are –employing traditional practices of fire control like:
-Creation and maintenance of fire-lines, fire-tracks, controlled burning, engaging fire-watchers during fire seasons etc.
-Villagers inhabiting in and around forest areas are legally supposed to assist the forest department staff in extinguishing fires.

The Government of India implemented a UNDP Project during 1985-1990 to address the problem of resource damage from uncontrolled forest-fires. A pilot project was launched in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra where severe fires had damaged about 50 percent of the forest area. The Haldwani and Chandrapur forest-fire incidents were reduced up to 90 percent through the pilot project. An air operation wing was also formed in 1991 through which latest fire-fighting technologies including helicopters and fixed wing aircrafts are being applied in needing areas. UNDP has provided two helicopters and aircraft along with spare parts etc and services of these were taken extensively in the states of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Delhi.