Himalayan Forest Fires Surge 1500%: Uncover the Devastating Impact on Wildlife and Ecosystems

May 30, 2024
4 mins read
Massive 1500% rise in Himalayan forest fires threatens wildlife and ecosystems Photo Credits: Forest Fire and Disaster Management Uttarakhand
Massive 1500% rise in Himalayan forest fires threatens wildlife and ecosystems Photo Credits: Forest Fire and Disaster Management Uttarakhand

The Himalayas are burning because fires have erupted in the forests of three Himalayan states. It’s spreading. First, the forests of Uttarakhand attracted attention. Then Himachal Pradesh. Now, fires have broken out in the forests of the Rajouri sector of Jammu and Kashmir. Fires are also seen in Punjab-Haryana, but those are usually for burning crop residue. It has nothing to do with forest fires.

From May 1st to May 27th, 2024, reports of fires have come from over 80,000 places in India. Satellites have captured it. Most of these fires were in forests. The biggest challenge is in the Himalayan states. Due to the heat in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, fires are igniting. Forest fire incidents have increased by 1500 percent in Himachal compared to last year and by 700 percent in Uttarakhand. Human errors and climate change are increasing forest fire incidents. 

In the forest area of Naushera in Jammu and Kashmir, fires are intensifying. Meanwhile, news agency PTI reported, citing an official, that forest fires in Udhampur district have caused significant damage to wildlife and forest assets. On the other hand, a fire broke out in the Darsu forest area between Udhampur and Jammu districts on Tuesday (May 28, 2024), spreading up to five to six square kilometers. The forest department, local residents, and firefighting services are continuously engaged in extinguishing the fire. Meanwhile, local residents have demanded the deployment of Indian Air Force helicopters to extinguish the fire.

In the last couple of days, a severe fire broke out in the Tara Devi forests near Shimla. Personnel from the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department made efforts to control the fire in the Tara Devi forest area until late at night. Meanwhile, the forest fire is causing significant damage as it reaches populated areas. The series of forest fires continues in the capital’s forests. On Wednesday, reports of fires were received from 14 locations around Shimla. According to information, there have been approximately 1033 cases of fires in the state so far. 

In most places, the fire has been brought under control. Forest Department said that fires had occurred in Tuttikandi, Anandpur, and Bharadi in recent days, which have been extinguished. With the help of local people, the fire was brought under control in the Chidi village of Bharadi. Another incident of fire was recorded in Dharampur of Solan district, where the fire reached a nearby building. It is believed that significant damage has occurred, possibly in millions. It is reported that the fire broke out around 11:30 in the morning and reached the building shortly after.

On Wednesday, 25 such incidents were recorded. With this, the number of forest fire incidents in the state has reached 1,038. Officials have stated that approximately 300 million rupees worth of property has been damaged. 

According to a report, there are 2,026 forest areas in Himachal Pradesh, of which 339 are classified as ‘extremely sensitive’, 667 are categorized as ‘sensitive’, and 1,020 forest areas are considered ‘less sensitive’. Incidents of fires are often seen in Shimla, Solan, Bilaspur, Mandi, and Kangra districts. According to forest department officials, in the last ten years, 13 people have died during fire extinguishing operations.

The department has around 3,000 field officers at the local level, and the leaves of the employees have been canceled. The officials confirmed that they have added around 18,000 volunteers of the Disaster Management Authority are assisting on the ground to control the fire incidents.

The environment is threatened by the fire. People are urged not to start fires in the forests and to assist the administration. It is said that information about those who start fires should be given to the Forest Department. Because due to the fires, many wildlife have fallen victim to the fire. According to the Forest Department, the forest fires near the city have had the most impact on wildlife. Countless animals have perished in the forest fires near the city. There is no estimate for this. 

Prof. Piyush Srivastava of the Center of Excellence in Disaster Mitigation and Management at IIT Roorkee says that the Himalayan states have mixed forests. There are complex geographical conditions. Slopes are there. Dry leaves and pine-deodar needles are fuel. They are called Dry Fuel Conditions. Prof. Piyush says that like all kinds of weather, there is also a season for forest fires. That is, Wildfire Season. In India, this season usually lasts from November to June. During this time, fires occur in forests across the country. This time, there were fewer pre-monsoon disturbances. Snowfall was less. There was no rain. Usually, during this season, there were 15-20 disturbances, but this time it happened only 7-8 times. Therefore, there was no rain. There was no moisture on the surface. The forests remained dry even in winters. There were reports of fires in February too.

Prof. Piyush says that due to the devastating forest fires, air quality will deteriorate. More carbon particles will be in the air. They will spread far and wide with the fast-moving air. They will accumulate on glaciers. This increases the risk of glacier melting. In such a situation, accidents like in Chamoli and Kedarnath can also happen. Due to El Niño, the heat has increased. Heatwave is going on. The temperature is high. There was less rain in winters. This condition was also there in 2015-16. Then only in 2016, 4400 hectares of forest were engulfed in flames. Due to fires in summers, the mountain soil and surface become weak. After that, when it rains, this soil becomes dangerous. Landslides occur. There is a fear of flash floods. Dirty soil flows into rivers. This deteriorates the water quality of rivers.

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Scientists are confident that these fires have been caused either accidentally or deliberately by humans. Which is now spreading. Human activities are the main reason in 95 percent of forest fire cases. Someone threw a bidi. Leaves or garbage were burned. Earlier, fires were extinguished due to rain, snowfall, and moisture. But now, due to global warming, the temperature is rising. There is also the effect of El Niño. Therefore, even a small spark has the power to destroy entire forests.

When and where can forest fires occur? Professor Piyush and his colleagues are developing a domestic early warning system for this. It will be a special kind of computer model. Which will predict forest fires based on fresh data on temperature, weather conditions, and geographical conditions. This will provide information about forest fires in the future. Precautions will be taken before that. Prof. Piyush said that in the future, help can also be obtained from ISRO-NASA’s new satellite NISAR.

Govind Tekale

Embarking on a new journey post-retirement, Govind, once a dedicated teacher, has transformed his enduring passion for current affairs and general knowledge into a conduit for expression through writing. His historical love affair with reading, which borders on addiction, has evolved into a medium to articulate his thoughts and disseminate vital information. Govind pens down his insights on a myriad of crucial topics, including the environment, wildlife, energy, sustainability, and health, weaving through every aspect that is quintessential for both our existence and that of our planet. His writings not only mirror his profound understanding and curiosity but also serve as a valuable resource, offering a deep dive into issues that are critical to our collective future and well-being.

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