Mon, 10 Apr 2023


Why in news?: Forest Survey of India reveals that Odisha is  experiencing the country’s worst forest fires, with  642 incidents alone  in month of March.


  • Forest fires have occurred across the globe at various times in the      The  sources  of  these  fires  have  been  both natural and anthropogenic. 
  • Forest areas in North America, South and S E Asia, Australia, Africa and Amazonia are prone to the incidence of fires regularly. 
  • Forest fires occur almost on  an  annual  basis  in  the  deciduous  forests  of Southern India. 
  • To get a forest fire starting, three elements must be contemporarily present: a heat source, fuel and oxygen. If one of the three elements is not present (anymore), the combustion reaction cannot start.

Types of Forest fires:

Forest fire broadly classified into three categories:

  1. Surface fire : Spread with flaming front and burn leaf litter, fallen branches and other fuels located at ground level.
  2. Ground fire: Burning of organic matter in soil beneath the surface litter and are sustained by glowing combustion.
  3. Crown fire: Burn through the top layer of foliage on a tree , known as the canopy or crown fires.They are the most intense and difficult to contain

Natural Causes of Forest Fires

  • Volcanic Eruption : Extreme heat of lava may cause vegetation to catch fire and spread. Mauna Ulu eruption in Hawai in 1970s burnt the Naulu forest.
  • Lightning : Forest fires frequently happens when lightning bolts continue for an abnormally long time or when they strike a dry material. In 2022, 90% of forest fires in boreal forest of Northern Canada and Alaska triggered by lightning.
  • High atmospheric temperatures: High temperature and dryness offer favourable conditions for fire because of lack of moisture. In 2022, fires triggered in Arctic forests due to  rising temperatures.
  • Dry bamboos : In bamboo areas, forest fires may occur by rubbing together of clumps of dry bamboos. Bamboo bushes in Kakatiya Van Vihar in Telengana caught fire recently.
  • El Niño conditions : El Niño , causing extreme dry conditions triggered one of the most severe fire seasons in 2015 in Indonesia.

Anthropogenic causes

  • Shifting cultivation : Shifting agriculture is the dominant driver of forest disturbance in India, especially in North Eastern states.
  • To get god grass/ fodder crop : In the upper Himalayan mountain, areas where natural forests still exist , massive fires are set intentionally to get fodder for animals.
  • Flush for tendu leaves : In central India, fires are ignited in the forest to increase the production of tendu leaves. Tendu leaves collectors set fires in the summer months to promote a better flush of leaves.
  • To conceal illicit felling : Smugglers and poachers in jungles of Odisha are caught many times  setting forest fires to hide the stumps of illicit felling. The poachers use forest fires for terrorising wild animals and hunting too.
  • Burning farm residue: After harvest, farmers in Haryana , Punjab , UP and Bihar  set fire to their agricultural fields. Many times, when these fires are not put out completely, may spread to the adjoining forest areas.
  • Protecting crops from wild animals : Villagers residing in or near the forest many times light up the fire in the forest to keep the wild animals away from their crops and cattle.
  • Careless travelling : Travellers, picnickers, nomadic grazers, villagers or even forest labourers some time throw un-extinguished cigarettes, bidis, and match sticks in the forest areas. In 2012 , Israeli tourist was arrested for causing forest fire in Chile.

Benefits of Forest fires

  • Cleaning the Forest Floor : With the help of fire low-growing underbrush is burned off, the forest floor is cleared of debris, the forest gets exposed to sunshine, and the soil is nourished.

  • Promotes biodiversity : The heavy brush is removed from wildlands by fire, making way for fresh grasses, herbs, and regenerated shrubs that provide food and Habitat for various wildlife species.
  • Killing Disease : Fire destroys diseases and pests that harm trees while supplying essential nutrients for soil improvement. Rather than fire, Disease and insect infestation claim the lives of more trees each year.
  • New Generations : Some trees have bark that can withstand fires and cones that must be heated to open and release seeds for regrowth. Manzanita, chamise, and scrub oak are examples of chaparral plants that also need a lot of heat to germinate their seeds. 
  • Fire prevents fire : Regularly occurring small wildfires actually prevent bigger, more destructive fires from happening in the future. If a forest doesn’t have a burn for a long time, dead trees and other fuel builds up, causing a much more destructive, out-of-control fire later.

Adverse impacts of forest fires

  • Pollution : The Hyderabad-based NRSC study revealed that concentrations of trace gases and aerosols rose to alarming levels in Uttarakhand p during a massive fire in April-May 2016.
  • Deteriorated Water quality : The introduction of fire retardant chemicals into waterbodies can reach levels toxic to aquatic organisms, as seen in Mexico.
  • Health & illnesses : Smoke from fires set in the Amazon region is one of the key causes of respiratory hospitalisations of indigenous people, states in study.
  • Loss of resources : The planet continues to experience a massive loss in forest land. The U.S. has lost 29.7 million acres of tree cover from forest fires since 2001.

The U.S. has lost 29.7 million acres of tree cover from forest fires since 2001.

  • Disruption of carbon cycle : Forest fire caused the loss of carbon sequestered in forest biomass carbon stock. In the future, due to climate change, a greater number of forest fire events may occur and disturb the carbon cycle.
  • Damage to flora and fauna : Forest causes severe threat to flora and fauna. Mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs died in the forest fires every year.
  • Soil erosion: In Portugal, as well as in other Mediterranean countries, forest fires has caused soil erosion . Vegetation cover is an important factor in determining runoff and erosion risk.
  • Depleting ozone layer : Forest fires in Australia continued from June 2019 to March 2020, and released over 1 million tonnes of smoke that reached to the stratosphere and affected the ozone layer.
  • Microclimate change : The changed microclimate caused by the removal of litter and duff, opening of the canopy by killing over storey shrubs and trees and darkening of the soil surface by residual soot and charcoal can increase insulation causing temperature increase.

Status of Forest fires across the globe

  • Most of North and South America, the African plateau, the northern Arabian Peninsula, and the Mediterranean coast of Europe as well as Northern and Eastern Europe have been affected by fires.
  • In Asia, fires have been detected on the coasts of India and in Russia's Siberia region as well as in China, Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • European countries with Mediterranean coasts such as Italy, Spain, and Greece are also struggling with forest fires.

Status of Forest Fires in India

  • According to Forest Survey of India website , there are 337 large Forest fires in the country as of March 14 in this year with 38 in Arunachal Pradesh, 18 in Jharkhand, 16 in Manipur, 15 in Meghalaya, 44 in Mizoram and 147 in Odisha, among others
  • The forest fires in Odishacome in the backdrop of the state not receiving any rain since October, which has resulted in forests experiencing dryness and the forest fires spreading.
  • Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra are the most prone to high-intensity forest fire events caused by rapid change in climate.
  • Mizoram had the highest number of forest fire incidences in the last two decades, with more than 95% of its districts being forest fire hotspots.
  • Earlier, forest fires would take place during the summer months, that is between May and June. Now, during spring, between March and May, because of climatic changes.
  • The duration that forest fires could take place was two to three months earlier, but it is now nearly six months.

Instances of Forest fires in India in 2023

  • The Himachal Pradesh and Nagaland-Manipur border saw prolonged fires in January.
  • There was a major wildfire between February and March in the Simlipal National Park in Odisha.
  • According to the Indian Express, Southern Chhattisgarh, Central Odisha, Western Maharashtra, and areas of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are highly prone to forest fires.
  • Bandhavgarh Forest Reservein Madhya Pradesh and sanctuaries in Gujarat also witnessed forest fires.

Government Initiatives to prevent Forest Fires in  India

  • The National Forest Policy of Government of India, 1952 states that the claims of the communities residing near forests should not override national interest. This was done in order to protect the forests from incessant exploitation, thus cultivation and other related activities were allowed only in unclassified forest land.
  • National Mission for Green India, introduced in 2014 aims at protecting and enhancing the forest cover of the country by involving the local communities in planning and decision-making of the same.
  • Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) was introduced in 2014, to check the usage of unspent money raised by the central and the state governments.
  • The Central Government is also providing assistance to the State Governments under the centrally sponsored scheme – the National Afforestation Program (NAP) “for regeneration of degraded forests and adjoining areas through people’s participation.
  • Since 2004, the Forest Survey of India(FSI) developed a Fire Alert System. The system will monitor forest fires in real-time. In 2019, an advanced version of the system was also launched.
  • Using the MODIS sensors(Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) Real-time fire information of fire hotspots is collected and sent to FSI. This is then forwarded by email to state, district, circle, division, range and beat levels. People in the locality will also receive SMS alerts.

Council on Energy, Environment and Water  Recommendations for Managing Forest Fires

  • Recognise forest fires as a disaster type and integrate them into national, sub-national and local disaster management plans.
  • Develop a forest fire- alert system, which does not segregate forest fires from other fires such as waste burning and crop burning.
  • Enhance adaptive capacity with training on high technology-focused equipment (like drones) and nature-based modules such as creating effective forest fire lines.
  • Provide clean air shelters in public buildings or government schools to create clean air shelters for communities worst impacted by fires and smoke from forest fires.

Way forward:

  • Revision of Indian Forest Act with some relevant section needs to be revised to give due importance to legal protection against man-made forest fire.
  • Designing and installing a network of fire forecasting at National and State levels in collaboration with the Meteorological Department.
  • International coordination along with organising seminars, training programs, conferences, and study tours in different countries leading in Forest Fire Management, e.g., U.S.A., Australia, U.K., Spain, France, etc.
  • Need to work on a new system of issuing pre-fire alerts to prevent such incidents.
  • Designing syllabus for planning, management, ground level firefighting courses in Forestry Institutions.
  • Promotion of people’s participation through involvement of NGOs, Voluntary Organisations, Village Forest Committees (VFCs)
  • Creation of forest self-help groups (FSHGs) or local forest special purpose vehicles (FSPV) — with an industrial linkage to the removal of dry needles with the help of villagers.
  • Set up National Institute of Forest Fire Management with satellite centres in different parts of India with an objective to bring the latest forest fire fighting technologies to India through proper research, training of personnel etc.


Forest fires have been a local issue with global impact, which may happen more frequently than the recent past due to impact of rising temperature and global warming. As populations  grow with expansion of industrial development into forested areas and climate change alters fire regimes, the risk to communities and infrastructure will likely increase. Mischievous fires originated from villages near the forest areas are the major causal factors for  fire incidences. Therefore, sensitisation of people and their social awakening through various meeting with villagers/ settlers and awareness campaigns about the negative consequences of forest fires on their health, environment and degradation of natural resources can be very effective to prevent forest fires.

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