Disastrous Forest Fires: Management and Control

Date01 June 2018
Published date01 June 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Indian Journal of Public
64(2) 237–253
© 2018 IIPA
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0019556117750900
1 Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (HoFF) (Retd), Himachal Pradesh, India.
Corresponding author:
S.P. Vasudeva, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (HoFF) (Retd), Himachal Pradesh, India.
E-mail: spvasudeva@yahoo.com
Disastrous Forest
Fires: Management
and Control
S.P. Vasudeva1
Forest fires are the most common hazard in forests causing havoc with
biodiversity. Forest fires may occur naturally; however, about 80 per cent of forest
fires in the world are caused by human beings. Forest Survey of India estimates
that about half of the country’s forests are affected by fire. The negative effects of
forest fires override the beneficial effects requiring their strategic management.
Management of forest fires through the disaster management continuum would
lead to systematic tackling with better results. Involvement of communities with
their viewpoint in devising strategy for forest fire prevention and control is
required. Integrated approach incorporating ecological, economic, social, cultural
and religious considerations, and rational knowledge of local people through
consultative process to be considered by a fully accountable nodal department
would go a long way in managing this disastrous menace.
National Disaster Management Authority, National Remote Sensing Centre, non-
timber forest products, sustainable development goals (SDGs), United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change
Forest fires are the most common hazard in forests causing havoc with plant
growth, fauna present therein and microbial biodiversity. During their course of
action, these quickly consume litter and all organic matter, thus exposing under-
neath soil to erosion. Fires occur in Indian forests, especially in tropical and
subtropical areas. These are rare in wet evergreen to evergreen forests and
common in moist deciduous to dry deciduous forests and man-made plantations.
238 Indian Journal of Public Administration 64(2)
Forest fires in India have got environmental significance as burning of tropical
biomass produce trace gases and aerosol particles, considered causative factors
for climate change. The sources of these fires have been natural as well as anthro-
pogenic. According to Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO, 2007), about
80 per cent of fires in the world are caused by humans. The loss to forest economy
due to these fires is much more than damage caused by harmful insects and dis-
eases of wood taken together. The negative effect of fires on forests in India was
first visualised during the British times when Brandis (1897) reported that from
one-half to three-quarters of mature trees in plains and lower hills were hollowed
out by forest fires. These are considered to be major cause of forest degradation in
India (Bahuguna & Upadhaya, 2002). The beneficial effects of forest fires in
turning litter on the floor into ash containing many nutrients helps in plant growth.
However, in totality the negative effects override positive effects. The policy and
approach of tackling forest fires in India through ban-and-punish approach has
not worked. There is, thus, need to devise appropriate strategies of forest fire
management so as to protect our environment, human health, biodiversity and
dependence of livelihood of people on forests. Forest fire management can be a
success when clear lines of institutional responsibilities are fixed through well-
defined policy (Vasudeva, 2010).
Causes of Forest Fires
Forest fires occur when all necessary elements of fire triangle consisting of fuel,
air and ignition source come together in a susceptible area (Figure 1). The causes
of forest fires may be natural, accidental or due to incendiarism (Table 1).
Natural causes of forest fires are not under control of human beings. When
lightning strikes in extremely dry forest areas, it comes into contact with dry
grass, litter, logs on forest floor to cause natural fire. High temperature during
summers causes peel, litter and needles in forests to dry down with some ignition
source triggers forest fires. Such fires sometimes occur at no man’s land due to mass
of bacteria breathing together to release enough energy causing fire. These are
Figure 1. Forest Fire Triangle
Source: Author’s contribution.

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