Gauging preparedness for keeping down forest fires

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Photo used for indicative purpose

Rising mercury in the hills also bring along threat of forest fires here. Based on satellite data, Himachal Pradesh has 15,100 square kilometres of forest area which is 27.12% of its geographical area. In terms of canopy density, the state has 3110 square kilometres under very dense forest; 6705 sq. kms under moderately dense forest and 5282 square kilometres under open forest area. Thousands of hectare land is burnt due to forest fire every summer season. According to the data of the state forest department, there were over 1500 forest fire incidents in the state during 2016-17 which had affected approximately 13,061 hectare of forest land. In 2018 there were 2544 forest fire incidents which affected an area of 25858.9 hectares with an estimated loss of 3.25crores. Unofficial figures revealed that before last year 2012-13 was worst as fires consumed forest wealth on 20,763 hectares.

Not only a resource waste forest fires also released large amount of carbon dioxide, threatening India’s greenhouse gas emission targets. The total Carbon stock of forests in Himachal Pradesh is 175,782 million tones (644,534 million tones of CO2 equivalent which is 2.48% of total forest Carbon of the country.

To get grip on the fire threat in 2018 a satellite based fire alert messaging system was reported to have been deployed by forest department in association with forest survey of India. “The system is working efficiently and Himachal Pradesh has become number one state in the country to have registered 11000 database for receiving forest fire alert massage through this system,” stated Ashok Chauhan a forest official. The satellite based system enables centralized SMS service in case of any forest firefor the registered users in the affected area.

Forest fire season is accounted from April 15th to July 15th every year, he informed. “Though this year Gods have been kind so far, as regular downpours are being witnessed and therefore lesser forest fire incidents are reported but our preparedness is to the fullest,” he stressed. “During the season fire watchers are appointed in every forest beat, to keep a manual check. These fire watchers besides sensitizing residents also help in taking off fire in case of any incident. They are equipped with Fire extinguishers, etc,” he informed.

 “As a pre-emptive measure, the forest department had run a sensitization campaign across the state in the month of March,” he informed. “Besides for highly sensitive forest fire zones, special meetings (At 80 locations) with all stakeholders were conducted, he added. This exercise was jointly done in association with state disaster management authority, added Chauhan.

“As far as budget is concerned last year we got around 1.75crores for the purpose. The same is being used for funding fire watchers, cleaning of fire lines, creation of temporary ponds, etc. The official assured that this year the department has ample funding to effectively fight the menace to an extent.”

The forest official explained that though completely doing away with forest fires might not be possible but with the current paraphernalia at hand identification of forest fire and action as per requirement would surely be more effective,” he assured.

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