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
- To arrange fire fighting drills frequently.