Other States

Spurt in forest fires in Odisha

File photo of a forest fire at Kasma Hills near Amapalli village in Kalahandi district of Odisha, in April 2019.

File photo of a forest fire at Kasma Hills near Amapalli village in Kalahandi district of Odisha, in April 2019.   | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

Lockdown due to coronavirus could hamper prevention efforts

With temperatures regularly breaching the 40 degrees Celsius mark in Odisha for the past couple of days, the State has witnessed a sudden spurt in forest fires. Slow trickling down of information, and restrictions on movement due to the COVID-19 lockdown, have made matters worse.

Also read | Forest fires threatening Odisha’s flora and fauna

According to the Forest Survey of India’s (FSI), fire alerts issued on the basis of the SNPP (Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership)-VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) sensor, which has a better resolution, as many as 604 fire spots have been detected in Odisha in the first four weeks of last month (March 1 to 28). But, in the five days from March 29 to April 2, the total number fire spots detected shot up to 620.

Since the second week of March, the number of forest fires in Odisha has been steadily increasing from 144 in the second week to 157 in the third week to 263 in the fourth.

Since March 29, the SNPP-VIIRS sensor has been detecting more than 100 fires per day.

Loss of resources

Forest fires are widely known to be one of the major causes of degradation and reasons for loss of precious forest resources. According to the FSI, 2.82% of Odisha’s total forest cover has been categorised as “extremely fire prone”; 7.73% as “very highly fire prone”; 13.32% as “highly fire prone”; 19.96% as “moderately fire prone”; and 56.17% as “less fire prone”. More than 6,000 km of fire lines have been created in Odisha’s forests over the months of January and February to stop fire from spreading.

Also read | One-fifth of country’s forests prone to fires: study

“Although this year’s forest fires have not been as menacing when compared with that of last year, the sudden rise in fire spots indicates that danger is in store. Regular field visits by top forest officers usually push fire squads to rush to contain fires. But now, top bosses of the Forest Department have confined themselves to their houses due to the lockdown,” said Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Orissa Wildlife Society, an environmental group.

Mr. Mohanty pointed out that the months of April and May are crucial to stop forest fires from spreading and officials must get their act together by not letting fire-fighting squads become complacent in the wake of the national lockdown.

‘Critical services’

Odisha Forest Department, however, said that measures were in place. “There is no reason to stay relaxed. Plantation watering and forest fire prevention has been categorised as critical services under the lockdown. We are having a satellite monitoring system. Alerts issued by the FSI are shared with people deployed at the beat level. After extinguishing the fire, our officials upload the pictures through an app,” said Sandeep Tripathi, Odisha’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF).

Four additional PCCFs are scheduled to review forest fire prevention activities on April 4, said Mr. Tripathi. He added although there are restrictions on making field visits, ground staff had been assigned to contain fires and keep tabs to prevent poaching.

Civil society activists alleged that most of the information on forest fires comes from villagers, and since their movement has been restricted, information was not trickling down from the ground.

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Printable version | Jul 3, 2020 4:38:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/spurt-in-forest-fires-in-odisha/article31238602.ece

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