Forest Fires

Mar, 09, 2019

Explained: Why are fires frequent at the Bandipur reserve?


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Bandipur Tiger Reserve

Mains level: Prevention of forest fires


  • A five-day fire that raged through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve has reportedly burnt more than 15,400 acres of forests.
  • Between February 21 and 25, the reserve saw 127 fire counts in various ranges of the 912 sq km forest.
  • While K’taka Forest Department scrambled to put out the blaze, an Indian Air Force helicopter sprayed over 19,000 litres of water in seven sorties.

Why it matters?

  • While fires are not uncommon at Bandipur, what has surprised officials is their intensity and frequency.
  • The worry now is the long-term damage to the ecosystem, which is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere that hosts the world’s largest tiger population, at more than 575 (2014 census).
  • Over 400 fire watchers were placed, but questions have arisen whether the precautions were enough, especially since Bandipur has had frequent fires.

How susceptible is it to fires?

  • Bandipur is a dry deciduous forest in the rain shadow region of the Western Ghats, and is no stranger to fires. Periods of drought invariably lead to fires.
  • A study has shown that between 1974 and 2014, 67% of the Nilgiri Biosphere had seen some form of forest fire, with Bandipur having reported the most incidents.
  • The 2018 monsoon was particularly strong, but the year-end northeast monsoon has failed.
  • If the monsoon led to dense growth, the blistering heat since September has turned vegetation brittle and dry, with vast swathes becoming tinderboxes.
  • As with most forest fires, it is assumed that Bandipur’s ignition was man-made as miscreants set fire in multiple locations.
  • Compounding matters is the ubiquity of lantana camara, an invasive weed species native to South America, that has spread through nearly two-thirds of the forest area.

What is the impact?

  • India’s forest policy encourages a zero forest fire approach for its protected landscapes — whether it is Bandipur or the rainforests of the upper Western Ghats.
  • Scientific literature has shown this blanket approach may be doing harm to dry, deciduous forests where trees have evolved to co-exist with fire.
  • The trees in this landscape were closer to those in a savanna than in rainforests 100 km away. Trees have dramatically thicker barks, implying that they had evolved to be fire-resistant.
  • When fires are relatively frequent, adult tree mortality in these systems is very low.
  • Many saplings sprout shortly after the fire from underground reserves, and the system returns to its original state in a few years.
  • Conversely, when fires are suppressed — including by curbing the tribal practices of controlled fire burning — a greater biomass builds up that can lead to high intensity fires which affect the ecosystem negatively.
Oct, 10, 2018

Forest fires cost India ₹1,100 crore a year: report


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Details of the Report

Mains level: Prevention of forest fires



  1. With at least one in four people dependent on forests for their livelihood, India is losing at least ₹1,100 crore due to forest fires every year, says a new World Bank report.
  2. The report calls for a national plan for the prevention of forest fire.

Findings of the Report

  1. The  report titled “Strengthening Forest Fire Management in India” is jointly prepared by the MoEFCC and the World Bank.
  2. Forest fires occur in around half of the country’s 647 districts every year states the report.
  3. Repeated fires in short succession are reducing diversity of species and harming natural regeneration, while posing a risk to over 92 million in India who live in areas of forest cover.
  4. Analysing patterns and trends the report highlights that central India has the largest area affected by fire.
  5. North-East accounts for 56% of burnt forest land during 2003-2016, followed by southern states and the North-East.
  6. However, North-eastern states account for the biggest share of fire detections, with at least 55% of fire incidents reported during 2003-2016.

Significance of the Report

  1. The findings are significant since preventing forest fires is crucial to meet Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) in order to limit global warming.
  2. As per the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC, forest fires globally contribute 2.5 billion to 4.0 billion tonnes of CO2 to carbon emissions every year.
  3. Tackling forest fires is even more important in India as the country has committed to bringing 33% of its geographical area under forest cover by 2030, as part of NDCs.

Way Forward

  1. India aims to increase its forest cover by 5 million hectares, as part of India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change.
  2. Forest fire management is part of our long-term vision for sustainable forest management.
  3. Forest fires can be controlled only by using an aggressive strategy.
  4. Apart from incentivizing communities and forest departments, there is also a need to bring a social movement across states to address the issue.
Mar, 26, 2018

[op-ed snap] Fighting forest fires


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: MODIS, VIIRS, Forest Survey of India

Mains level: Prevention of forest fires


Forest fire incidents in India

  1. The recent wildfire tragedy in Theni in Tamil Nadu, in which 20 trekkers lost their lives, once again brings into focus forest fires in India
  2. This tragedy raises several other issues — of approaches in fighting fires and ways of mitigating damage

How are forest fires detected?

  1. When a fire anywhere in the world is detected by NASA’s MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) and VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) satellites, the Forest Survey of India (FSI) analyses the data by overlaying the digitized boundaries of forest areas to pinpoint the location to the exact forest compartment
  2. The FSI relays news of the fire to the concerned State so that the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) in charge of the forest where the fire is raging is informed

Ways to tackle forest fires

There are four approaches to fighting forest fires

  1. Technological
  • In this approach, helicopters or ground-based personnel spray fire retardant chemicals, or pump water to fight the blaze
  • These are expensive methods and make sense when one is protecting a human community, but are usually not practiced in India

2. Natural containment

  • This approach tries to contain the fire in compartments bordered by natural barriers such as streams, roads, ridges, and fire lines along hillsides or across plains
  • A fire line is a line through a forest which has been cleared of all vegetation
  • Once the blaze has burnt out all combustibles in the affected compartment, it fizzles out and the neighbouring compartments are saved

3. Set a counterfire

  • When a fire is unapproachable for humans, a line is cleared of combustibles and manned
  • One waits until the wildfire is near enough to be sucking oxygen towards it, and then all the people manning the line set fire to the line simultaneously
  • The counterfire rushes towards the wildfire, leaving a stretch of burnt ground
  • As soon as the two fires meet, the blaze is extinguished

4. Beat the fire out

  • This approach uses enough people with leafy green boughs to beat the fire out
  • It is the most practical and most widely used
  • This is practiced in combination with fire lines and counter fires

How to mitigate the damage?

  1. We need to vastly increase the number of firefighters
  2. They need to be equipped with drinking water bottles, backup supplies of food and water, proper shoes or boots, rakes, spades and other implements, light, rechargeable torches
  3. Seasonal labor could be contracted during the fire season

Other changes required

  1. Indian citizens require permission to enter reserve forests for recreational purposes
  2. The rules preventing entry to the public were intended to stop the removal of resources so that the forests concerned would be held in reserve against contingencies like war when large quantities of both timber and firewood were required
  3. Now there is no valid reason for people to obtain permission to climb a publicly owned hill in India
  4. The Forest Act of 1927 is urgently in need of revision
  5. Also, there is no need for paved paths or tourist ‘facilities’ within reserve forests as these are not tourist attractions

Way forward

  1. Increasing the field staff of Forest Departments by discontinuing the claimed ‘forest plantations’ would help control forest fires, which in turn would help rejuvenation of fire-stressed forest ecosystems
  2. Giving access to the public to reserve forests in their present state would have a salutary effect on the quality of life of our citizenry and the quality of field researchers available within the country
Sep, 23, 2016

Impacts of Amazon fire

  1. Air pollution caused by smoke is causing eye problems for inhabitants
  2. The fire could wreak chaos on a major indigenous reserve, home to native communities that have limited contact with the outside world
  3. It can also spread to the Otishi National Park nearby which is home to some 5,000 people in 10 communities
Sep, 23, 2016

A background to Amazon forest fire

  1. The fire broke out on September 10 in an indigenous community, in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon
  2. It has since destroyed more than 19,000 hectares of forest and another 200 hectares of farmland in the region
  3. The fire is in an extremely remote region known as VRAEM, an acronym for the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valleys
  4. The area is known for its isolation, dense rainforest and tropical crops – coffee, cocoa and the country’s largest tracts of coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine
Sep, 23, 2016

Amazon forest fire threatens natives, wildlife in Peru

  1. News: An enormous fire is destroying vast stretches of the Amazon rainforest in Peru, threatening natives and wildlife
  2. Reason: Traditional slash-and-burn farming
  3. A drought had already left the region vulnerable
  4. Authorities still have not managed to bring it under control

Discuss: Remember about Uttarakhand forest fires earlier this year? Revise the why & how of it now and keep disaster management perspective too in mind

May, 29, 2015

HP gov. sets up satellite tracking system to check forest fire

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