Forest tracks of Kerala are facing the risk of fire as the mercury levels are soaring.

The State has already lost around 700 hectares of pristine forest land to fire this season starting December 2009. Increased atmospheric temperature and absence of summer rain have put the forest areas in perilous position.

“The forests of the State are facing the increased risk of fire,” said T.M. Manoharan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest. Summer rain had evaded the State and it had not rained in the forests too. The delayed summer shower would further worsen the situation, he said. The fire that broke out last year had destroyed over 2,000 hectares of pristine forest land raising major environmental concerns. February proved to be the worst month in terms of loss of forest area this year. The figures available with the Forest Department showed that 441.58 hectares was gutted during the month.

During the first week of March, 203.82 hectares had been gutted. It was mostly in the Southern Forest Range that most of the fire incidents had occurred this month

The drying up of bamboo groves in forest areas was another cause of concern for the forest officials during this summer. Bamboo groves die after the flowering season. Large tracts of bamboo groves had dried up after its flowering last year. The dry bamboo could trigger large fires, he said. Extra caution would be exercised in forest areas with dried bamboo. The closure of such areas to visitors was one such measure.

The department was unable to remove the bamboo following an apex court verdict preventing the removal of forest produces for commercial purposes.

The Forest Department was monitoring the fire situation closely with the support of a web site (web fire mapper) which tracks forest fire across the world. The satellite images of any fire that broke out in a forest area of minimum one hectare would be posted on the web site. The fire data was followed up every day and SMS alerts were sent to forest officials in the region where the fire was reported.

Subsequently, the officials would be directed to file action taken reports. All major incidents of fire could thus be tracked and controlled effectively, Mr. Manoharan said.

The general public could access the site and alert the department about the fire incidents. The data of earlier incidents of fire was also available on the web site, he said.

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