Forest Fire: As Part of Ecosystem

The National Forest Policy 1988 aims for 33% of the country’s geographical area under the forest cover for ecological and environmental security. While aiming to expand the forest cover in the country, it is equally important to improve the state and quality of existing forests and protect them against various threats and drivers of degradation. Forest fires are a major cause of degradation of India's forests. 

Fires in forest are not unnatural. It has been a natural part of the ecosystem since origin of forest on this planet. Most of the fires are very useful and for good natural forest development and regeneration

Throughout historic time-forest fires have been ignited and burned naturally through the forest. These low intensity fires in past kept the forest floor free from the natural annual build up of the litter i.e. tree needles, dead grass, senescent leaves & twigs, thick brush, and dead trees. As a result, fire -has shaped vegetation patterns and wildlife distributions in the Forests. The normal fire season in India is from the month of February to mid June.

Fire effects on all forests are not equal. While same fire, beneficial for one ecosystem, may be for the other, depending upon the climatic conditions, and type of vegetation. 

Tropical rain forests choked in fog and continuously drenched by mists and downpours are least susceptible to fires. In deciduous forests of temperate region, as a result of heavy rainfall and dampness and relatively high humidity, fire is very occasional and less damaging. Evergreen forests with broad leaves of dry areas and conifer forests are more susceptible to fire in general. 

But now about 90% of the forest fires in India are created by humans. 

People for some personal gain of rivalry with forest department cause intentional forest fire. Examples are:

• Shifting Cultivation

• To get good grass/fodder crop 

• To promote better flush for tendu leaves

• For concealing the illicit felling 

• For cleaning forest paths by the villagers 

• To settle scores 

Some Accidental or Unintentional Causes of forest fire are:

• Collection of Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) 

• Burning farm residue

• Protecting crops from the Wild animals

• Careless throwing of cigarettes, bidi stubs, match sticks by grazers/travellers

• Negligence in camp fires and working operations near camping ground and fairs

• Sparks from transformers or vehicles passing through the forest

• Uncontrolled prescribed burning 

• Resin tapping

• Charcoal Making and wine extracting in the forest 

• Sparks from the house kitchen near the forest

• Heating coal tar for road construction 

• Hunting by tribal


Impact of Fire

• Fire severely affects the survival and establishment of many shrub species.

• Soil heating due to fire changes its chemical, physical and microbial properties.

• The increase in ammonium and nitrate concentrations in many ecosystems has also been reported as a result of fire incidences.

• The most damaging impact of forest fire on ecosystem is very evident in the Himalayas, where hill existing between the heights of 1000 to 1800 meters are dominated by pine forests and seems to be more fire prone.

• Degradation of water catchments areas resulting into loss of water.

• Loss of wildlife habitat and depletion of wildlife.

• Loss of natural vegetation and reduction of forest cover.

• Global warming.

• Micro-climate change.

• Soil erosion.

• Deteriorating Biological Environment. 

• Adverse impact on Health System. 

• Socio-economic impact due to loss of valuable timber resources and associated cultural wealth. 

• Carbon sequestration potential gets adversely affected. 

• Threat to Life and Property. 

• Reducing Tourism Values. 

Forest Fire Management 

The Government of India took number of the progressive steps for protection, preservation and management of forests, including: 

1. The Indian Forest Service was revived in 1966 to ensure coordinated professional management of Forests. The purpose of establishing this cadre of officers has been safety and protection of environment and taking care of national interest. 

2. The subject 'Forest' was transferred from the State List to the Concurrent List of the Constitution of India in 1976 to ensure uniform policy and management throughout the nation. ' 

3. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, has prepared a National Master Plan for Forest Fire Control. This plan proposes to introduce a well-coordinated and integrated fire-management programme that includes the following components:

a) Prevention of human-caused fires through education and environmental modification. It will include silvicultural activities, engineering works, people participation, and education and enforcement. It is proposed that more emphasis be given to people participation through Joint Forest Fire Management for fire prevention.

b) Prompt detection of fires through a well coordinated network of observation points, efficient ground patrolling, and communication networks. Remote sensing technology is to be given due importance in fire detection. For successful fire management and administration, a National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) and Fire Forecasting System are to be developed in the country.

c) Fast initial attack measures.

d) Vigorous follow up action.

e) Introducing a forest fuel modification system at strategic points.

f) Firefighting resources.
Each of the above components plays an important role in the success of the entire system of fire management. Special emphasis is to be given to research, training, and development

g) Integrated forest protection: The main objective of this scheme to control forest fires and strengthen the forest protection.  The works like fire-line clearing, assistance to Joint Forest Management committees, creating water bodies, purchase of vehicles and communication equipments, purchase of fire fighting tools, etc., are being undertaken under this.