Uttarakhand: Forests across 1,500 hectares burned in a year. Were fire lines drawn to prevent it?

Fire lines prevent forest fire from spreading from one area to another.

WrittenBy:Hridayesh Joshi

About 1,500 hectares of forests got burned in forest fires in Uttarakhand this year, as per government data. Taking cognisance of the damage, the Supreme Court asked tough questions to the state and central governments.

While the scale of damage revealed the lack of preparedness by authorities, Newslaundry learned that there are many forest ranges where there is no fire line, which prevents forest fires from spreading from one area to another. 

Since independence, there has been no review of these fire lines, even though the nature of the forest has changed to a great extent. Following a ban on cutting green trees at altitudes above 1,000 metres in the 1980s, forests have expanded, and many fire lines have disappeared. 

The forests of Uttarakhand are among the richest and most diverse in India, with 27 reserve forest divisions. But we have learned that there is not a single fireline in some of the forest ranges. For instance, out of the seven forest ranges in the Pithoragarh forest division, there is no fireline in the Munsiyari and Dharchula forest ranges. Meanwhile, the fire lines in the Berinag and Gangolihat ranges are less than half a kilometre long.

Koko Rose, forest conservator of North Kumaon Circle, told Newslaundry, “Fire lines are necessary, but it is wrong to assume that if fire lines are there in some forest area, then there will be no fire. Firelines prevent fire from spreading from one place to another. You can’t make these everywhere.”

Migration from villages is also a major reason behind the increase in forest fires. More than 1,000 villages in Uttarakhand have been completely abandoned. And in many villages, only two to four families live. The grass and shrubs growing in these “ghost villages” act as fuel for fire. The consequences of climate change – drier weather, no rain in winter, and less snowfall – also fuel forest fires.

Historian Shekhar Pathak, who has been studying Himalayan ecology for over 50 years, said, “A united front is needed to save the forests. In this front, there should be participation of scientific institutions along with forest department, administration, community villagers and students. Unless such a body is formed, not even an army can extinguish the fire.”


Newslaundry earlier reported that over 1,000 forest fires occurred in four months this year and the forest department staff and vehicles have been deployed on poll duty in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls in violation of orders. Read here.

For ground reports that talk about real issues, we need a free press. Here’s why the World Press Freedom Week is a great opportunity to power such reports.

Also see
article imageUttarakhand: Over 1,000 forest fires in 4 months, crisis looms amid poor preparedness
article imageUttarakhand forest fires: Forest staff, vehicles deployed on poll duty in violation of orders


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