Equip forest staff better to fight fires
Along with providing the departments with material and personnel support, it is imperative to involve local communities to keep an eye on the forests
A searing summer is rapidly approaching India, and its footprint is becoming increasingly visible. According to a report in this newspaper on Tuesday, India saw a 115% increase in forest fires in the first 12 days of March, thanks to severe rain deficiency and hotter-than-normal temperatures in February. While the country recorded only 7.2 mm of rain last month, the sixth lowest for the month since 1901, the average maximum temperature in February was the highest in recorded history at 29.66 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, there has been little change in March. On Monday, 772 large forest fires were reported by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) from Mizoram to Chhattisgarh. Even Goa and the Konkan region of Maharashtra --- which have tropical forests, and humid and moist conditions with wetness on the ground --- were charred by fires. The culprit is, yet again, the heatwave-like conditions.
While heat and dry soil make conditions conducive for the spread of forest fires, the triggers may also be not just the climate conditions; often, locals clear land for farming-related activities or sometimes sheer carelessness of people (The Goa government has ordered a detailed probe). An FSI study states that over 95% of fire incidents are of anthropogenic origin. Unfortunately, the firefighting capabilities of India’s forest departments are rudimentary. They don’t have modern equipment, an adequate number of vehicles, and enough field staff, which can bolster their rapid response system. In an era of the climate crisis, this is an impairment. Along with providing the departments with material and personnel support, it is imperative to involve local communities to not just keep an eye on the forests but also in cleaning and burning the fuel load (dry leaves etc) in a controlled manner to prevent large outbreaks in India’s precious carbon sinks.