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Uttarakhand gears up with fund, force to check forest fires


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DEHRADUN: Ahead of the fire season, the Uttarakhand government has sanctioned funds worth `16 crore to fight forest fires which devastate large tracts of land every year. The fire season in the hill state extends for four months from February 15 to June 15. 

“Preparations have been made to tackle forest fires. Now that we have got a budget, it will be easier to work towards saving the forests from the fire,” said VK Gangte, chief conservator (forest fire and disaster management).

Work started in December end — depending on snowfall and dry weather — for the precautionary exercise of rotational and controlled burning to prevent the outbreak of forest fires. The forest department completed the pre-emptive exercise in February.

In rotational burning, forest areas infested with dry weeds are pruned out so that they can be burned in a controlled manner in cycles. Controlled burning involves setting planned fires to vegetation for specific purposes such as limiting the amount of dry brush in an area prone to wildfires.

While more than 1.50 lakh hectares of the area have seen rotational burning till February 15, controlled burning is still on in patches. With 40 control rooms and one IT and Geoinformation Cell (ITGC) in Dehradun, the forest department keeps a tab on wildfires with the help of 1,437 crew stations and 174 watchtowers across Uttarakhand.

Forest officials hope that there will be no repeat of the 2003 devastation which saw forest fires destroying  4,983 hectares of land — the most disastrous in the 2000-2018 period. Nevertheless, forest fires are feared as Uttarakhand has seen about 500 percent spike in such incidents in these 18 years according to an RTI response.

As per RTI reply, forest fires affected 44,518.45 hectares of land and caused a loss of `1.85 crores. The maximum economic loss was reported in 2018 with damages estimated at Rs 86.05 lakh, while the year 2010 was a relief for the forest department as the losses were found to be less than Rs 1 lakh.

Rs 16 crore
allotted for fighting forest fires
8,700 km
of fire lines cleared 
to avoid fires
1.50 L ha
of forested land cleared via rotational and controlled burning

What is the extent of damages?
From 2000 to 2018, forest fires devastated 44,518.45 hectares of land while the total economic loss was pegged at `1.85 cr. The maximum damage in terms of areas was reported in 2003 when 4,983 hectares of forest land were destroyed.

What are the causes of these fires?
According to an FSI (Forest Survey of India) report, over 95% of wildfires are man-made in India. But, it is also a fact that wildfires are sometimes a natural phenomenon.

How common are forest fires in Uttarakhand?
Forest fires are a common occurrence every year. In Uttarakhand, the fire season usually starts from mid-February to mid-June. Rains in June helped to check forest fires.

What are the other steps taken so far?

Toll-free numbers established and drones and ground staff are deployed. Forest department is also using social media so that the people can alert its personnel about such devastating wildfires

(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)