Forest fires in the Indian state of Uttarakhand has been a common phenomenon that may continue to increase more frequently in the years to come due to rising temperatures and global warming.
It has been observed since pre-historic period that forest fires occurs mainly due to lightening and in the Indian context the probability of occurrences due to lightening is very less as compared to anthropogenic occurrence. Thus, most of the forest fires in India including Uttarakhand are manmade and the reason for it has yet to be explored. People in Uttarakhand may have their vested interest of getting short-term benefits from forest fires, whereas the long-term repercussions are not known to them. They are the common man with their habitat in the vicinity of forest and may have extracted a part of their daily livelihood from forest. To what extent they are depending upon forest is also yet to be explored. However, rising temperature helps in catching the fire at a rapid pace once someone put the fire in the forest.
Incidence of Forest Fire in Uttarakhand
In Uttarakhand incidence of forest fire this year has been very bad. Fire smashed nearly 4,000 hectare of forest cover across 13 districts and killed 9 and injured 17 people along with damaging biodiversity and forest ecosystems very significantly. The frequency of forest fire in Uttarakhand during April 2016 was much higher and widespread than during April 2015.
During April 2015, forest fire points were identified only in two districts viz. Nainital and Udham Singh Nagar with 1 and 6 fire points respectively, whereas during same period of current year forest fire spread over 13 districts with a maximum number of fire points observed in Pauri Garhwal followed by Nainital. Thus around 32% of the total 1270 fire points were observed in Pauri Garhwal followed by around 22% in Nainital during April of the current year.
Causes of Forest Fire in Uttarakhand
Abridged precipitation during summer season have a moisture reduction impact on woods and bushes causing the humidity level to go down at ground level, allowing fire to catch more rapidly and spread quickly over the forest land.
Besides, anthropogenic intervention for collection of honey, collection of sal seeds, extraction of timber, improvement of growth of grass, hunting wild animals, encroaching forest land and many accidental fires lead to forest fire in Uttarakhand forest.
Thus dry weather, low seasonal rain and vapour pressure deficit followed by burning of pine needles, burning of litter and shading of plants by local people and unsustainable forest conservation policy are all responsible for forest fire in Uttarakhand.
Pauri Garhwal, Nainital and Tehri Garhwal districts out of 13 affected district were most impacted by the fire. Himalayan glaciers have been affected severely by the Uttarakhand forest fire. Black carbon deposit in the glaciers from smoke and ash of forest fire which is having high temperature absorbing capacity will cause ice to melt faster. This will create ecological imbalance with negative impact and disaster in the region in near future. The glaciers are feeding the rivers in Northern India, which will now carry harmful chemicals and pollutions due to such carbon deposits. Besides much human loss, flora, fauna and wild animal losses were also significantly observed during the two months of forest fire. Around 10,000 people of state and central government officials and residents were deployed to douse the fire. The damage to biodiversity with loss of flora, fauna, and bird species were significantly high than larger animals such as tigers, deer and elephants, who manage to escape to safer places. Besides, tourism is also very badly affected by this forest fire.
Forest fires have been a local issue with global impact, which will continue to increase more frequently than the recent past due to impact of rising temperature and global warming. Most of the forest fires in Indian state of Uttarakhand are anthropogenic in nature. Extreme dry weather, low seasonal rain and vapour pressure deficit followed by burning of pine needles, burning of litter and shading of plants by local people and unsustainable forest conservation policy are all responsible for forest fire in Uttarakhand.
Changes in the attitudes and actions of individuals, stakeholder groups, the private sector, and governments are required for action and implementation of sustainable forest fire prevention policies. Prevention of forest fire will require long-term coordinated efforts by public and private authorities with robust planning and informed policy implementation.