Forests

Forest fires in India: Alerts since April 1 nearly double that of 2020

The country reported 82,170 VIIRS alerts in the fortnight till April 14; Uttarakhand sees significant jump in number  

 
By Dakshiani Palicha
Published: Monday 19 April 2021

India recorded 82,170 forest fire alerts from April 1-14, 2021 nearly double the number reported during the same period past year, according to Global Forest Watch (GFW), an open-source monitoring application

Forest fire alerts from April 1-14, 2021 in India as recorded by the Global Forest Watch, an open-source monitoring application

India recorded 82,170 forest fire alerts from April 1-14, 2021 nearly double the number reported during the same period past year, according to Global Forest Watch (GFW), an open-source monitoring application.

The country reported 43,031 alerts during the corresponding fortnight in 2020, according to GFW data using Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) alerts.

The number of forest fire alerts in April 2021 is also the highest in five years, according to the data. The second-highest was during the corresponding period of 2017, when 78,716 VIIRS alerts were recorded. In the 2016, 2018 and 2019 periods, the number of alerts recorded were 56,067, 25,701 and 43,508, respectively.

“In broad terms, the increase in forest fires can be attributed to the rise in temperatures across North India,” Raman Sukumar, honourary professor at the Centre for Ecological Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, told Down To Earth.

“Warmer weather leads to rapid desiccation of fuel (wood, leaves and other inflammable materials found in forests). In such a scenario, even a small ignition is likely to become widespread,” he said.

Temperatures in the first three months of the year have been warmer than usual. March 2021 was the third warmest in 121 years, the India Meteorological Department had said in its review for the month. “The basis for more fires in April was laid in March itself,” Sukumar added.

A majority of the forest fire alerts were concentrated in north and central India, the GFW data showed, mainly in the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Uttarakhand, along with parts of Jharkhand and Telangana.

State-wise, Uttarakhand reported a significant jump in alerts. The Himalayan state recorded 8,934 forest fire alerts during April 1-14 as against 72 in the corresponding fortnight last year. Uttarakhand’s forest department had said earlier this month that fires that began in October 15, 2020 were still burning on April 5, 2021, as a result of rising temperatures and poor rainfall.

Madhya Pradesh saw the highest number of VIIRS alerts (22,797) during the fortnight, in line with the trend of the past five years. But this is also double the 11,609 alerts that the state recorded in April 1-14, 2020. Jharkhand (5,284 VIIRS alerts this month) and Odisha (5,000 alerts) have also seen a significant rise in the number of VIIRS alerts.

Forest fire alerts in India (April 1-14)

Year India Madhya Pradesh Uttarakhand Odisha Maharashtra Jharkhand Telangana
2017 78,716 19,980 819 8,872 6,527 5,450 1,464
2018 25,701 7,908 254 1,793 3,306 1,014 696
2019 43,508 12,217 113 5,338 3,863 1,886 1,744
2020 43,031 11,609 72 3,098 3,561 1,530 3,040
2021 82,170 22,797 8,934 5,000 4,835 5,284 1,968

Source: Global Forest Watch using Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) alerts

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