Tensions Soar As Forest Fires Increase

As Odisha prepares to tackle a possible Coronavirus outbreak, a new problem has caused serious tension among officials. With temperatures rising throughout the state, there has been an increase in forest fires. And controlling the situation has become challenging due to the lockdown.

The number of forest fires detected in Odisha in the first four weeks of last month (March 1 to 28) was 604. Surprisingly, in the five days from March 29 to April 2, the total number of fire spots increased to 620. The fire spots were being tracked using the SNPP (Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership)-VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) sensor, and alerts were issued by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) based on the data. Recently, the radar has been detecting more than 100 fires a day.

The FSI has already marked 2.82% of Odisha’s total forest cover 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 January and February to stop a fire from spreading.

“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.

“There is no reason to stay relaxed. Plantation watering and forest fire prevention have 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), elaborating on the measures being taken by the state forest department.