16 April 2021.
In April 2021, Uttarakhand recorded 361 forest fire incidents in just five days. During this period, over 567 hectares of forests have been destroyed. This includes 380 hectares of reserve forest areas. Though forest fire seasons occur every year, the damaged caused this year is high.
About forest fire season:
Every year forest fires begin in mid-February in the state of Uttarakhand. It is the season between winter and monsoon. This happens on the onset of spring when the trees shed their dry leaves. Also, during this period the soil loses moisture due to increase in temperature. The forest season continues till June. This season is now increasing mainly due to climate change and scarce rainfall in the Himalayas.
This year, the forest fires that began in October 2020 are still burning even in April 2021.
The causes of forest fire:
The three main factors that cause forest fires are oxygen, fuel load and temperature. The dry leaves are the main fuel for the forest fires. They are in higher quantity during this period of time as compared to the rest of the year.
Also, the surface of hilly areas gets dried faster than the plains. This is mainly due to the lower accumulation of rainwater in the hills.
Current Scenario in Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand has 38,000 square kilo metres of forests. This is around 71% of its geographical area. Since 2000, the forest fires have affected more than 48,000 hectares. (Uttarakhand was formed in 2000).
As the forest fires began to increase in the state, the Chief Minster of Uttarakhand Tirath Singh Rawat sought help from the Union Minister Amit Shah. To this, the centre has sent two MI-17 helicopters to fight forest fires. These helicopters have been deployed in the Kumaon and Garhwal regions.
The Van Panchayats should be given incentives and rights to protect forest areas. The Forest Act, 1988 dissociates local community with forests. The local community villagers do not initiate dousing fires in the absence of a sense of belonging. More water holes should be developed to recharge groundwater and to maintain moisture in the soil.