A massive forest fire ripped through the Simlipal National the Park in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district on Tuesday. The state government said 95 per cent of the fire points have been extinguished or attended to.
“The sustained proactive actions of the government and rigorous work by field staff has led to total containment of fire in Simlipal. Today Simlipal had only 26 FSI fire points & doused by field staff,” Sandeep Tripathi, the chief of the task force on forest fire Odisha informed on Twitter on March 9.
In what was seen as a big relief, mild rain with thundershower was experienced at the Karanjia forest range, adjacent to the Similipal National Park. However, a major portion of the national park has been affected by the fire. The question that arises now is, are forest fires new?
No. Forest fires have been frequently reported in the country, the concentration being the hilly terrains of Himalayas and the north eastern states.
Two months ago in January, Kullu in Himachal Pradesh raged for days before being brought under control. Forest fires were also reported in Shimla and other parts of the state. Local reports say that the fire spread to other areas and was stopped before it could spread further.
The forest fire common during the dry season, especially during summer as that is when chir pine forests become easy preys to wildfires.
Earlier in January, forest fire was also reported from the Dzukou Valley on Nagaland-Manipur borders. The fire, which raged for two weeks, first broke out in the Dzukou Valley under Kohima district in southern Nagaland on December 29 and crossed over to the northern Manipur side, forcing both the state governments to request the NDRF and the army for help.
In the last three months, three major forest fires have been reported across the country, affecting huge tracts of forest and raising larger ecological concerns.
Reports from the Forest Survey of India suggest that forest fires are not only an old phenomenon but also that thier frequency has increased over the years.
The Forest Survey of India (FSI) detected 2,77,758 forest fire points from 2004-2017 across the country in a 2019 report. Assam (20,862), Chhattisgarh (25,995), Madhya Pradesh (24,422), Maharashtra (20,686), (Mizoram 32,659) and Odisha (26,719) had the highest number of fire points, the report stated.
The FSI study also showed a gradual increase in these fires since 2004-05 when there were 8,654 forest points which went up to 30,892 in 2009-10 and further surged to 35,888 in 2017.
It further stated that 665 grids are extremely fire prone in the country, making 3.89 percent of the total forest cover. In technical terms a grid is an area measuring 25 square kilometres (5 km x 5km). There are 2,259 grids or 6.01 percent of forest which are highly fire prone. While, another 3,708 grids or 11.50 percent of area are fire prone.
Going by the report, forests in the northeastern states — Mizoram, Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya – fall under the list of extremely fire prone class.
The concern against the calamity was also raised in the Parliament last year after which the Union Minister responded that forest fires have been increasing across the globe and over 2.56 lakh hectare land in India was affected by it in 2019.
“As regards India, an area of 2,56,710 ha has been affected by fire in 2019 as reported by the States. Most forest fires in the country are ground fires in which ground vegetation, etc. get burnt. The number of incidents of forest fire in the country varies from year to year depending on various natural and anthropogenic reasons,” Minister of State for Environment Babul Supriyo said in a written response to the Parliament in September last year.
Experts have linked frequent forest fires to climate change and local factors. In case of Odisha, some reports point out to eucalyptus trees, which are prone to fire, as potential triggers. Whereas in Himachal, experts have linked the fires to chir pine forests.
The risk of forest fires remains in the future. A report in Times of India said that forest fire alerts have increased across the country by 125 % this year. Between November 2019 and January 2020, 1,321 alerts were sent out. This year 2,984 alerts are already sent, mostly from Uttarakhand, Odisha and Maharashtra.