A satellite-linked fire alert system, developed by NASA and currently on trial in Madhya Pradesh, is turning out to be an effective tool in saving wildlife and bio-diversity from forest fires.
This computer programme, called Fire Alert and Message System (FAMS), has been developed by NASA and the University of Maryland, US.
With the help of the alert system, in place since April 2007, forest officials now respond to fire outbreaks faster. The reaction time has been reduced to two hours from the earlier eight hours to even a couple of days. Locating the place of fire in forest areas was difficult, said a forest department official.
Such delays can cause major losses to Indian forests every year. A moderate Forest Survey of India (FSI) estimate says that timber worth Rs 35 crore is lost in fires in 63 million hectares of Indian forests every day, apart from unaccounted damage to bio-diversity.
But if figures from a UN study in 1987 are calculated on the present prices, the annual loss is estimated to be around Rs 410 crores, says environment ministry estimates. FSI data shows that 50 per cent of Indian forests are fire prone.
India's first system, a combination of satellite-based detection of fire and a computer programme, sends an alert to the nearest forest official whenever it detects a fire, reducing the reaction time by several hours.
The system processes remote sensing data of active fire locations obtained through a satellite and then sends alerts through SMSes and e-mails from the nearest beat guard to the state's chief conservator of forests.
The system also builds the database of fire locations, which can be used to identify fire sensitive zones scientifically and also to plan fire control strategy.
Now, for the first time the MP government knows that it lost 2.36 per cent of the total forest area in the fire season of 2007.
The state government has also found that forests of Sehore, Odedullahganj, Raisen, Jabalpur, Burhanpur and Sheopur are most fire prone forests in the state.