Forest Fire: Civil Services Mentor Magazine: June - 2016

Forest Fire

Recently India witnessed one of the bigggest forest fires in Uttarakhand. The forest department estimated that 3,500 hectares (8,600 acres) of forest had been burnt. Nearly 1,600 incidences of fires were detected which were brought under control. National disaster response force along with worked day and night to solve this problem. Rains also came in timely to help in keeping the fire down. Forest fires always start by one of two ways - naturally caused or human caused. There are various reasons for natural fires to start as well, lightning is the most important reason for natural forest fires. Natural forest fires are of less percentage compared to human-caused fires. Human-caused fires can also start through various ways. Some classifications include smoking, recreation, equipment, and miscellaneous. Human-caused fires constitute the greater percentage of forest fires in our forests, but natural fires constitute the great majority of the total area burned. Simple reason for this is human-caused fires are easy to detect, so it is easier to remove them than natural forest fires.

There are three elements that are required for a forest fire to burn: Heat, Oxygen, and Fuel. This is the so-called "fire triangle". Without all three of these elements, the fire will go out. Forest fires propogationis also in the direction where the these three elements are abundantly present. Fire triangle also acts as a regulator, where there is less presence of any of these three fire tends to stop. Once the fire enters the combustion stage, there are three main types of classifications for the fire. A smoldering fire is one that emits smoke but no flame and is rarely self-sustained. A fire is classified as flaming combustion when flames are present. Charcoal can be formed in the absence of oxygen with this type of fire. Glowing combustion is a later stage of the fire and is characterized by a slower rate of combustion and blue flame.

Most important classification of a forest fire is in which part of forest, it is burning. If they occur on the ground it is known as ground fires. This kind of fire is mostly below the level of leaves. Other type in this classification is surface fires. Surface Fires occur on the surface of the forest up to 1.3 meters high. Similarly forest fires which occur at the top of the tree are called as crown fires, they are the most dangerous fires. Crown fires can spread the fastest. It is not uncommon for two or three types of fires to occur simultaneously. Deadliest fire is when fire can jump from one crown to another. Crown fire is often sustained by the surface fire. A crown fire is particularly very dangerous in a coniferous forest because resinous material given off burning logs burn furiously. On hill slopes, if the fire starts downhill, it spreads up fast as heated air adjacent to a slope tends to flow up the slope spreading flames along with it. If the fire starts uphill, there is less likelihood of it spreading downwards.

Forests fires are as old as the forests themselves. They pose a threat not only to the forest wealth but also to the entire regime to fauna and flora seriously disturbing the bio-diversity and the ecology and environment of a region. During summer, when there is no rain for months, the forests become littered with dry senescent leaves and twinges, which could burst into flames ignited by the slightest spark. The Himalayan forests, particularly, Garhwal Himalayas have been burning regularly during the last few summers, with colossal loss of vegetation cover of that region.The youngest mountain ranges of Himalayas are the most vulnerable stretches of the world susceptible to forest fires. The forests of Western are more frequently vulnerable to forest fires as compared to those in Eastern Himalayas. This is because forests of Eastern Himalayas grow in high rain density. With large scale expansion of chirr (Pine) forests in many areas of the Himalayas the frequency and intensity of forest fires has increased.

There are various ways through which forest fires can be controlled. Forest fires are usually seasonal. They usually start in the dry season and can be prevented by adequate precautions. Successive Five Year Plans have provided funds for forests fighting. During the British period, fire was prevented in the summer through removal of forest litter all along the forest boundary. This was called "Forest Fire Line" This line used to prevent fire breaking into the forest from one compartment to another. The collected litter was burnt in isolation. Generally, the fire spreads only if there is continuous supply of fuel (Dry vegetation) along its path. The best way to control a forest fire is therefore, to prevent it from spreading, which can be done by creating firebreaks in the shape of small clearings of ditches in the forests.

The followings are the important precautions against fire:

  • To keep the source of fire or source of ignition separated from combustible and inflammable material.
  • To keep the source of fire under watch and control.
  • Not allow combustible or inflammable material to pile up unnecessarily and to stock the same as per procedure recommended for safe storage of such combustible or inflammable material.
  • To adopt safe practices in areas near forests viz. factories, coalmines, oil stores, chemical plants and even in household kitchens.
  • To incorporate fire reducing and fire fighting techniques and equipment while planning a building or coal mining operation.
  • In case of forest fires, the volunteer teams are essential not only for fire fighting but also to keep watch on the start of forest and sound an alert.
  • To arrange fire fighting drills frequently.

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