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Why forest fires are common in Himachal Pradesh

  • Posted By
    10Pointer
  • Categories
    Environment
  • Published
    16th Jan, 2021

Context

  • Himachal Pradesh frequently witnesses forest fires during dry weather conditions. This month, a forest fire which started near Kullu raged for several days before being brought under control.

Mapping the forest area of the State

  • Two-thirds of the total geographical area of Himachal Pradesh is legally classified as forest area.
  • Much of this area is permanently under snow, glaciers, cold desert or alpine meadows and is above the tree line.
  • Chir Pine, Deodar, Oak, Kail, Fir and Spruce are some of the common trees found here.

To what extent these forests are fire-prone?

  • Except for periods of precipitation in monsoon and winter, the forests remain vulnerable to wildfires.
  • During the post-monsoon season and in winters, forest fires are also reported in higher areas, including parts of Shimla, Kullu, Chamba, Kangra and Mandi districts, where they usually occur in grasslands.

What causes the fire?

  • Forest fires are a recurrent annual phenomenon in the state, and most commonly occur in Chir Pine forests.
  • The dry summer season from March to June coincides with the shedding of highly-combustible needles by Chir Pine trees.
  • Once the fallen dry needles catch fire, it can spread quickly over the entire forest due to the action of the wind.
  • Natural causes such as lightning or rubbing of dry bamboos with each other can sometimes result in fires
  • Dropping a burning matchstick, torchwood or a bidi/cigarette, can cause a massive fire.
  • A spark can also be produced when dry pine needles or leaves fall on an electric pole.

How much damage do the forest fires cause?

  • Maintenance of aquifers and continuous flow of streams and springs
  • firewood, fodder and non-timber produce to the local communities
  • Organic matter in the soil and exposure of the top layer to erosion
  • Impact on the wildlife by burning eggs, killing young animals and driving the adult animals away from their safe haven.
  • Danger to human life and property

Are the recent forest fires unusual?

  • The unusually dry weather conditions last year from August to November, resulted in drought-like conditions.

What could be done to prevent and control forest fires?

  • Forecasting fire-prone days using meteorological data
  • clearing camping sites of dried biomass
  • early burning of dry litter on the forest floor
  • growing strips of fire-hardy plant species within the forest
  • creating fire lines in the forests(*fire lines are strips in the forest kept clear of vegetation to prevent the fire from spreading)
  • early detection and quick action by fire-fighting squads is crucial

What steps the State has taken to stop forests fires?

  • State forest department has a fire protection and fire control unit.
  • In 1999, the state government notified forest fire rules which restrict or regulate certain activities in and around forest areas such as lighting a fire, burning agricultural stubble or undergrowth (ghasnis) and stacking inflammable forest produce such as dried leaves and firewood.