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Uttarakhand blaze, a man-made disaster

New Delhi: Two years of drought and a rise in the average temperature, low relative humidity and strong winds have all contributed to the fires raging in Uttarakhand.

Flames engulf a forest near Badkot in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. The State has been under a dry spell this year with either scanty or no rainfall in most areas. Photo: Virender Singh Negi

“It’s known in these parts that forest fires follow a general five year cycle, and the intensity this year can be seen in this light. The drought and low humidity over two years have played a big role,” Ashwani Kumar, Director-General, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, told The Hindu.

The Forest Survey of India warns State governments about the probability of forest fires and preparations are usually taken up in February to contain them.

Apart from the threat to life, forest fires are ecologically damaging depending on whether they are ground fires or crown fires.

When fires spread at the level of treetops — the crown — they irreversibly damage trees. The fires in Uttarakhand this year, according to Mr. Kumar are largely ground fires.

‘Need more manpower’
Using helicopters to pour water and put out the fires is not a feasible option in the affected area because there are not enough lakes or large water sources nearby. The best way is to recruit more manpower to do the job, he added.

Compared to the United States and Australia, forest fires in India occur largely due to human actions.

Forest dwellers often start fires to create new ground to get a fresh crop of grass for livestock. Mr. Kumar said such activities went out of control on many occasions and there should be greater awareness.

Nearly 55 per cent of India’s forests are prone to fires and they emit aerosols in copious quantities that are damaging the environment, according to a study by the University of Freiburg on the causes and patterns of Indian forest fires.


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