Within hours of a fire in the forests of Sheopur in Madhya Pradesh this summer, the range officers were ready for action, thanks to a satellite-based warning system. Within two hours, they were on the spot, dousing the blaze. Without the warning, it would have taken them 12 hours to respond.
“Forest resources worth several crore of rupees were saved,” said a forest department official, who didn’t wish to be identified, said.
It wasn’t a one-off case. The forest department’s response time in 67 per cent of cases has been cut to less than two hours after the state installed the system in April last year.
Madhya Pradesh’s success story has come as a blessing for 1 lakh protected forest areas around the globe, which now have a similar satellite-based fire-warning system.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) on Monday launched a worldwide Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) developed by the University of Maryland and NASA.
The FIRMS processes remote-sensing data of active fire locations obtained through a satellite and sends short message service and email alerts from the nearest beat guard to the state’s chief conservator of forests.
With everyone in the loop, it leaves little room for laxity on part of the field staff. They have to report to the control room on the time taken to control the fire and also fill a questionnaire, which helps the system to analyse forest fires in region.
“This is really just the tip of the iceberg about the type of monitoring that is possible with these technologies that allow the linking of real-time satellite data with protected areas boundaries,” said Charles Besançon, head of the protected areas programme at UNEP-WCMC.
A moderate Forest Survey of India (FSI) estimate says timber worth Rs 35 crore is lost to fires in 63 million hectares of forests every day. But, if figures from a UN study in 1987 are calculated at present price, the annual loss could be around Rs 410 crore, environment ministry estimates say. The FSI data shows that half of India’s forests are fire-prone.