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Fighting forest fires

Fighting forest fires


The recent wildfire tragedy in Theni in Tamil Nadu, in which 20 trekkers lost their lives, once again brings into focus forest fires in India. these fires are not spontaneous; human beings set off fires. This tragedy raises several other issues — of approaches in fighting fires and ways of mitigating damage.

Relaying information

  • A fire anywhere in the world is detected by NASA’s MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectro radiometer) and VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) satellites.
  • The Forest Survey of India (FSI) analyses the data by overlaying the digitised boundaries of forest areas to pinpoint the location to the exact forest compartment.
  • The FSI relays news of the fire to the concerned State, so that the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) in charge of the forest where the fire is raging is informed.

Four approaches to fighting forest fires:

  1. Technological

Helicopters or ground-based personnel spray fire retardant chemicals, or pump water to fight the blaze. These are expensive methods and are usually not practised in India.

  1. Containing fire in natural barriers

Natural barriers such as streams, roads, ridges, and fire lines along hillsides or across plains.

A fire line is a line through a forest which has been cleared of all vegetation which saves the neighbouring compartments.

  1. Setting a counter fire:

When a fire is unapproachable for humans, a line is cleared of combustibles and manned. One waits until the wildfire is near enough to be sucking oxygen towards it, and then all the people manning the line set fire to the line simultaneously. The counter fire rushes towards the wildfire, leaving a stretch of burnt ground. As soon as the two fires meet, the blaze is extinguished.

  1. Effort by people: To have enough people with leafy green boughs to beat the fire out. This is practised in combination with fire lines and counter fires.

Mitigating damage

  • Adequate number of Forest Department personnel, firefighters.
  •  Equipping them properly with drinking water bottles, back-up supplies of food and water, proper shoes or boots, rakes, spades and other implements, light, rechargeable torches, and so on.
  • Contracting seasonal labour during the fire season.
  • Local villagers would be the best resource.