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Current Affairs

Forest Fires in Himachal Pradesh

Date: 15 January 2021 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Forest fire which started near Kullu raged for several days before being brought under control. Forest fires were also reported in Shimla and other parts of the state.

 

Background

Himachal Pradesh frequently witnesses forest fires during dry weather conditions. This is because of fire prone trees such as Chir Pine, Deodar, Oak, Kail, Fir, and Spruce.

 

Details

  • Although two-thirds of the total geographical area of Himachal Pradesh is legally classified as forest area, much of this area is permanently under snow, glaciers, cold desert or alpine meadows and is above the tree line.

  • Except for periods of precipitation in monsoon and winter, the forests remain vulnerable to wildfires. Forest fires are a recurrent annual phenomenon in the state, and most commonly occur in Chir Pine forests.

  • In the summer season, forest fires occur frequently in the low and middle hills of the state, where forests of Chir Pine are common.

  • The dry summer season from March to June coincides with the shedding of highly-combustible needles by Chir Pine trees.

  • Once the fallen dry needles catch fire, it can spread quickly over the entire forest due to the action of the wind.

  • During the post-monsoon season and in winters, forest fires are also reported in higher areas, including parts of Shimla, Kullu, Chamba, Kangra, and Mandi districts, where they usually occur in grasslands.

 

Cause for fire

  • Natural causes such as lightning or rubbing of dry bamboos with each other can sometimes result in fires, but almost all forest fires can be attributed to human factors.

  • When the grass is dry, even a small spark, such as someone dropping a burning matchstick, torchwood or a bidi/cigarette, can cause a massive fire. A spark can also be produced when dry pine needles or leaves fall on an electric pole.

  • People, who frequently pass through a forest to gather minor produce, take their animals for grazing or for other purposes may set up a temporary fire to cook food or warm themselves.

  • When people burn their fields to clear them of stubble, dry grass or undergrowth, the fire sometimes spreads to the adjoining forest.

 

Damage caused by forest fires

  • Forest fires can cause a lot of damage to the regeneration in the forests and their productivity. Moisture-loving trees such as Oaks and Deodars may give way to other species and exotic weeds.

  • Forests help maintain aquifers and continuous flow of streams and springs, and provide firewood, fodder, and non-timber produce to the local communities – all these capacities may get adversely affected in case of a fire.

  • Forest fires may destroy organic matter in the soil and expose the top layer to erosion. They may also impact the wildlife by burning eggs, killing young animals, and driving the adult animals away from their safe haven.

  • Sometimes, a forest fire may get out of control and extend to human settlements, thus posing danger to human life and property.

 

Preventing forest fires

  • Forecasting fire-prone days using meteorological data, clearing camping sites of dried biomass, early burning of dry litter on the forest floor, growing strips of fire-hardy plant species within the forest, and creating fire lines in the forests.

  • The state government notified forest fire rules which restrict or regulate certain activities in and around forest areas such as lighting a fire, burning agricultural stubble or undergrowth, and stacking inflammable forest produce such as dried leaves and firewood.