Photo used for indicative purpose
Shimla, May 4
The number of forest fires exceeded 900 in this summer season as the department could not achieve the working plan of controlling the burning of pine needles owing to prolonged dry spells and in-conducive climatic conditions. This was stated by the Head of Forest cum Principal Chief Conservator of Forest of Himachal Pradesh, Ajay Shrivastav, while talking to us over the phone. We could not avert forest fire in time, most of which could be avoided by achieving controlled burning of pine needles, clearing of paths etc. He said that the forest department could not perform annual preventive measures in accordance with the fire manuals. It includes steps like creating fire lines, controlled burning, removing combustible material from the forest floor, monitoring weather conditions, humidity, temperature, and anticipating outbreaks of fires. He said there is a working plan to burn the pine needles at least once in three years; however, we could not do it, keeping the already deteriorating climatic and prolonged dry spell condition. He accepted that if  preventive measures had been taken, fire hazards could be reduced significantly and become manageable in the worst of conditions. He said that controlled burning of residual lying helter-skelter, considered a source of fire hazards, is done in February each year, and the fire lines are kept clean to avoid crossing of a forest fire from one edge of the forest to the other one. ” Weather and environment conditions were such since the winter season that it was not possible to control the burning,” he said, adding that it resulted in a number of forest fires now, which may be around 800 to 900 all over the state. A forest working plan is laid out each year to control the burning of pine needles, building paths in the forest, and clearing pine needles from the fire-prone areas. The incidence of fire could not be brought under control as there was a lot of combustible material. Therefore even a source of water by making water bodies have been created to store rain water which is to be used in the time of eventuality was almost dry due to drought- like conditions. The unscientific extraction of rosin may not be a significant problem for pine forest fire as trees, after attaining a circumference of 50 cm, are allowed for extraction of the rosin, which is used in manufacturing Turpentine oil. He said that Himachal Pradesh State Forest Corporation manages the extraction of Rosin from the pine tree.  The state has a 1,25 885 hectares area of pine forest which is highly vulnerable to forest fires. He said that the State Disaster Management Authority deployed helicopters on an experimental basis to douse down the Taradevi forest fire recently, but it did not prove effective.
Similarly, Uttrakhand Government also tried to rope in a Helicopter to control the forest fire, but it did not continue as it did not prove productive enough. Pinus Roxburghii Sarg(Chir) are in abundance in the middle hills of the state. Ajay Srivastava said that the loss caused by the pine needles fire is more this year due to a prolonged dry spell. He noted that beat forest guards and field staff had been alerted since March to take the assistance of local people to control forest fires and adopt zero tolerance to avoid forest fires. He said that it is a sign of relief that most of the forest fire has been doused down by the rain showers lashing many places in the state,e, especially in the  Chamba district.
Possible Solutions to the persistent problem
He said that the department, with the help of Forest Research Institute (FRI) Nahan, is trying to convert the pine needles into industrial bye products after increasing their utility. Three brick nits were being set up in Nahan, Mandi and Hamirpur to use the pine needles ashes to manufacture building blocks and lightweight brick. FRI Nahan is also giving training to local people to convert the pine needles fibre to the spinning of cloth etc or its fibre in the textile industry. Fifty per cent subsidy is offered to set up pine needles based industrial units in the state. Dr Shrivastava said that the pine needles have industrial use but collection and transportation is not easy and cost effective. There should have been technology to compress the pine needles in less volume to transport it with more ease from one place to other places . He said that some cement plants are also buying pine needles to convert their ashes into Cement.
The glaring shortcoming in fire management
 A retired forest official informed that the department seemed to have failed to adapt in time preventive measures and fire protection in this summer season. There is already a satellite-based monitoring system in place. He said that mapping of fire-prone areas was done long ago with the purpose of readiness to deal with eventualities that seemed missing in the current summer season. He said that fire watchtowers and gang huts were constructed to be used by the fire watchers. People and forest field staff are sensitised to fight forest fires. Modern fire fighting equipment was acquired, and a number of centrally sponsored fire fighting schemes were provided. To ensure the fire conversations efforts, a CCF Fire Protection is being posted in forest headquarters who work through a number of control rooms created at each Circle , Division and Range office level. He alleged that efforts seemed insufficient as earlier fire combat strategy was choked out in campaign mode as fire warnings were published in the newspapers and through the distribution of handbills, the general public was being alerted. The field staff should be provided mobility to control the forest fire in time moreover noncooperation of right holder’s to assist the forest fires rights have suspended and its impact. The assistance of SSB, military, police and home guards is also being sought in major forest fires. Former forester is of the opinion that fires fighting through helicopters could not be disbanded on cost basis, but it’s utility is to be seen as a quick method of extinguishing and saving forest should be kept mind.


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