India to get real time forest fire alert system

Forest Survey of India's new programme also tracks big fire incident

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Thursday 17 January 2019

The Forest Survey of India (FSI), a body under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), which is responsible for assessment and monitoring of India’s forest resources, launched the beta-version of the Large Forest Fire Monitoring Programme on January 16.

The programme is part of the Fire Alert System (FAST) Version 3.0, where the FSI will monitor forest fire events using real time data from the SNPP-VIIRS satellite.

“FSI will track large fire events across the country and disseminate specific Large Fire alerts with the objective to identify, track and report serious forest fire incidents so as to help monitor such fires at senior level in the state forest department and also seek timely additional assistance that may be required to contain such fires. Large Fire tracking aims to improve tactical as well as strategic response to large forest fires,” FSI’s website announced on January 16.

“The previous system was fire pixel based. So, say today there are 12 fire events in your area, then it’d show you the number of fire events in your area. The next day, it may show you that there are eight fire events, but it won’t tell you whether they are the same fire events,” says E Vikram, deputy director, FSI.

Vikram says that the new system is different in the sense that it identifies big fire events–more than three consecutive pixels–and not only gives real time data on it, but also tracks it. The system has been built using the data on forest fires from previous years.  

“In the earlier system, you would have known that there was a fire event, but details like how big it was, its duration etc could only have been known on going to the field. The new system gives you all that information,” he says.

The FAST 3.0 is a collaborative effort between the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and FSI. The team that built the system has members from the forest department, software and geographic information system (GIS) experts.

“The NASA’s active fire data is sent to ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre in Hyderabad and from there, it is sent to FSI. Then, based on naming convention centred around forest ranges, we label the fire, like Dehradun I etc. Then, this update of Dehradun I fires is sent to all the 40,000 registered users–both governmental and public–of the forest alert system and gets updated in real time,” Vikram says.

Vikram says that this tool will help in forest fire management at the policy level. “This will help understand the fire patterns of an area by giving data on how many big fires broke out, how long did they last etc. This data will help in creating crisis plans and working plans for districts. It’ll also help in disaster escalation, as we’d know how big a fire is and what are the chances of it getting out of control.”

Since January 1, there have already been 28 big fire incidents tracked by the new system, with the maximum being recorded in Karnataka (16).  

A report titled “Strengthening Forest Fire Management in India”, jointly released by the MoEF&CC and the World Bank last year on October 11, stated that forest fires have distinct regional patterns, with 20 districts (not the same ones) accounting for 47 per cent of fire distribution.

Speaking at the launch, Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Harsh Vardhan had said that forest fires are one of the causes of emission of carbon dioxide that leads to global warming and a forest fire management system will help, “meet India’s climate goals defined under the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs) set under the Paris Agreement.”

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