Odisha tops forest fire incidents in the country for a week
With daytime temperatures breaching over 40 degrees Celsius in around a dozen places in the state since last week, Odisha has topped the list of states in the country concerning forest fires in the last one week.
According to the Forest Survey of India’s (FSI), fire alerts issued based on the SNPP (Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership)-VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) sensor, at least 3531 fires were recorded in Odisha, the highest in the country between April 9 and 16. Maharashtra with 3203 fires in that period was at the second spot followed by Madhya Pradesh with 2472 fires.
Though fire incidents in Odisha are quite less this year compared to the same period last year, the numbers are slowly rising. Between 9 and 16 April 2019, Odisha recorded 4429 fire spots while the same for the previous year was 682. As per the FSI portal, Odisha recorded 14388 forest fires in 2019-20 while in 2018-19 there were 4490 fire spots.
Since the second week of March, the number of forest fires in Odisha has been steadily going up from 144 in the second week to over 500 in the week of April 9-16. On Tuesday, one of the biggest forest fires was seen at Panhala hill near Dhenkanal town of Odisha as forest department personnel struggled to douse the fire. The fire spread to other areas of the forest atop the hill adding to the miseries of the wildlife there as well as people living around. Panhala hill is regarded as a wall of protection for Dhenkanal town.
“This year’s forest fires have not been as bad when compared with that of last year, the sudden rise in fire spots indicates the threats that we are about to face. Had ground-level forest officials been on the field, the fire squads on the ground would have been more alert to contain fires. But as top officials of the state forest department are now in Bhubaneswar due to the coronavirus lockdown, there is not much action on the ground,” said Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Wildlife Society of Odisha, a leading environmental NGO. “The first one hour is critical to control it before it develops into an inferno,” he said.
As per the FSI, Odisha had a forest cover of 51,619 sq km, of which 6,970 sq km is very dense forest and 21,552 sq km is moderately dense. Around 23,097 sq km is open forest. According to the FSI, 2.82% of Odisha’s total forest cover has been categorised as “extremely fire-prone”; 7.73% as “very highly fire-prone”; 13.32% as “highly fire-prone”; 19.96% as “moderately fire-prone”; and 56.17% as “less fire-prone”.
Odisha forest department officials, however, said the ground level staff are busy extinguishing fires on the ground. “This year, the situation is not as bad as last year except for forest divisions like Rayagada, Baliguda and Boudh. Podu cultivation in these areas has been the main reason for the rise in the forest fires. Our officials are there on the ground trying to contain the fire. They are uploading the details on a mobile app after putting out the fires. We have a satellite monitoring system and the alerts issued by the FSI are shared with people deployed at the beat level,” said Sandeep Tripathi, Odisha’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests.