India state’s officials blame pine trees for wildfire severity. Experts say that isn’t the full story.

An article written by The Wire author Hridayesh Joshi breaks down systemic issues facing the wildland firefighting force in Uttarakhand, India.

More than 1,200 forest fires burned this year in Uttarakhand and claimed the lives of at least ten people, including some forest guards. In response, state officials have orchestrated a statewide campaign against pine tree litter, called “Pirul Lao-Praise Pao,” or “Bring Pine Litter, Take Away  Money.” The program incentivizes locals to collect piles of pine needles that litter the state’s forest floor. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami even recorded himself scraping up pine needles to promote the program.

“Under the campaign ‘Pirul Lao-Paise Pao,’ a large number of people are collecting pine needles and selling it to the government at the rate of ₹ 50/kg,” (about 60¢ USD per 2.2 lbs.) Dhami said. “At present, due to this campaign, the incidents of forest fire have reduced significantly and the villagers living near the forest area are also earning income.”

In May, the Uttarakhand government suspended 10 frontline Forest Department employees as nearly 1,350 hectares (3,336 acres) of Himalayan hills remained burning for nearly a month. The decision to suspend the forest guards and foresters followed an emergency meeting of senior government officials with Chief Minister Dhami. He postponed his scheduled engagements to chair the meeting with the Forest Department officials.

“Ten employees have been suspended in different areas,” he said, “five were attached to the forest headquarters and two were issued showcause notices for dereliction of duty leading to massive fire incidents since April 1.”

Trivendra Singh Rawat was the first Chief Minister in the state to start a pine needle collection program by linking it to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) after coming to power in 2017, according to the Statesman.

“Around 25 lakh (~2.5 million) metric tonnes of pine needles are produced annually in the state,” Rawat said. Researchers at India’s  Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering found that pine needles, if heated with an absence of oxygen through pyrolysis, could be converted into a bio-oil and used in blended fuels. Rawat estimates that volume of pine needles could generate nearly 200 MW of power.

Experts, however, say the state’s narrative focus on pine needles as the cause of wildfires misses the mark because pine duff is an easy scapegoat for government officials to focus on rather than the more systemic issues of inadequate forest staff, drought, and a widespread absence of fire breaks.

“One could argue this campaign was the government’s attempt to pivot the blame away from grim ground realities and solely toward these aged pine trees,” Joshi wrote. He said, instead of addressing all these issues together, the Uttarakhand government’s decision to “villainize” one species is a myopic strategy and will prove to be detrimental in the long term. Pine is just one conifer standing among many other species on the Himalayan slopes. Focusing solely on pine shows the government’s misunderstanding of the larger Himalayan ecosystem and is leading to unsustainable solutions to the forest fire issue.

Pine trees have made up an integral part of India’s mountain forest cover since the Himalayas first formed. Collection of pine needles alone won’t be enough to control forest fires, experts told Joshi. Instead, the state should create a more holistic approach that addresses the human causes of forest fires.

Read the full article here.


World’s largest tropical wetland burned this year

Record-breaking wildfires between January and June burned an ecological foothold — and biodiversity haven — spanning across Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay this year, just four years after similar fires burned 13,300 acres of the preserve.

The Pantanal is considered the world’s largest tropical wetland area, the world’s largest flooded grasslands, and one of the most important areas of freshwater in the world.

NASA captured some of the intense fires’ burn scars in satellite imagery.

“Fire season in southern Brazil usually starts in July and peaks in August and September,” NASA said. “The false-color images emphasize the burn scars (brown) from several of the fires. Unburned vegetation is green. Near- and short-wave infrared bands help penetrate some of the smoke to reveal the hot spots associated with active fires, which appear orange.”

Pantanal fires
Pantanal fires June 2024

The repeated fires have left the environment in a state of constant recovery — and nearby communities are struggling.

“We were just trying to recover from the 2020 fire, which devastated our Pantanal. We had not fully recovered and now we are facing this again,” said a volunteer firefighter with the Baia Negra Environmental Protection Area’s Association of Women Producers.

A recent report from MapBiomas Brazil, a collaborative initiative including NGOs, universities, and technology companies, sheds light on a major cause of the fires: surface water loss.

Edge effects
Edge effects on the native vegetation and continuous habitat — including exposure to wind and solar radiation, susceptibility to fire, increased predation rates, and

The Pantanal is the biome in Brazil that has dried up the most between 1985 and 2023. The report said annual water surface for the area last year was just under 944,000 acres — only 2 percent of the wetland biome was covered by water. The total is reportedly 61 percent under the historical average. The area was 50 percent drier in 2023 than it was in 2018 when the area’s last major flood happened.

“In 2024, we didn’t have a flood peak,” said Eduardo Rosa with  MapBiomas. “The year has seen a peak drought, which should last until September. The Pantanal in extreme drought is already facing fires that are difficult to control.”

The report also found that the entire Amazon region suffered a severe drought with a decrease of 8.2 million acres of water surface.

Up to 25% of Brazil’s native vegetation may be degraded

A new platform from the MapBiomas network shows that between 1986 and 2021 Brazil had between 11 and 25 percent of its native vegetation susceptible to degradation. This corresponds to an area ranging from 60.3 million hectares to 135 million hectares.

Fire effects over time
Visualized fire effects over 7 years, resulting from a single burn or multiple burns.

About 64 percent of Brazil — more than half the country — is covered by native vegetation. The beta version of MapBiomas’ degradation vectors platform makes it possible to generate unprecedented scenarios of the impact of factors that can cause degradation on native vegetation across  Brazil.

“This is the first time that degradation can be assessed in a broader way and in all Brazilian biomes,” says Tasso Azevedo, general coordinator of MapBiomas. “But we know that this degradation process occurs in other types of cover, such as agriculture and pasture, as well as soils and water, where we also intend to advance with this information in MapBiomas in the coming years.”

  ➤ View the main highlights [PDF] of the Degradation module

The degradation vectors considered by the MapBiomas team in this first edition of the platform include the size and isolation of the native vegetation fragments, their edge areas, the frequency of fire and the time since the last burn, as well as the age of the secondary vegetation.

Pantanal: fire as a factor in degradation

In the Pantanal, the degraded area can vary from 800,000 hectares (6.8 percent) to 2.1 million hectares (almost 19 percent). Although it is a biome that coexists with fire, the incidence of fires in the last five years has meant that 9 percent of the Pantanal’s forest formations, which are fire-sensitive areas, have been damaged.

Eduardo Rosa with the MapBiomas’ Pantanal team says some of the vectors of degradation in the Pantanal beyond this analysis must consider the entire biome’s surroundings, since all the rivers that naturally irrigate the Pantanal plain are born in plateau areas. “The removal of native vegetation for agricultural and livestock expansion unprotects the soil and interferes with the distribution of water and sediment. The quantity and quality of water that reaches the plains also depends on dams and hydroelectric plants that alter the natural flow of water,” he says. “Climate issues relating to rainfall and temperature regulate droughts and floods, and the increase in periods of drought has hampered the resilience of the Pantanal ecosystem.”



ON THIS DAY … 1994 and 2014

A little note and a little request — by Patrick Carnahan
 ~~ July 5, 2014
Still can’t believe we are only hours away from marking the 20-year anniversary of the fire on Storm King Mountain. I’m now 12 miles away from the parking lot I was in when Paul Harvey told us we’d just lost 14 firefighters on the mountain.
Patrick Carnahan photo
Patrick Carnahan photo

Our strike team had orders to go to that fire and we got stopped leaving camp and re-routed to another fire. We drove 3 times as long to fight another fire as it would’ve taken us to be on the South  Canyon Fire. We reached our assignment just as the flames were crossing the road into a remote community and we fought fire for the next 14 hours. Lost a wooden deck but no structures.

I remember everything in sight that night was on fire; it looked like hell, and there was no place else any of us would choose to be. Had about 4 hours of sleep and the first hot meal in 6 days when we got the news. Nobody really said anything at the time. We all understood we should’ve been on that mountain. Spent the next 5 days in a haze of smoke and flames before we were demobed. I have lost a couple of friends since then and many more I never had the opportunity to share the line with. Glad that the ignorance of youth was not wasted on me and I’m still here.

Asking that you all take a moment out of your day tomorrow and recognize those who never came off the line. Fire will always be a part of our reality and it will never be a job free of risk. When the next report hits the news about a wildland firefighter losing his or her life on a fire, please go here and make a difference:  The Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Keep one foot in the black and stay safe out there. For those who have gone on, save me some line to work when the time comes.

And a revisit from a few years ago of one of Bill Gabbert’s best pieces:

Thompson Fire burns in northern California

Thousands were ordered to evacuate in northern California ahead of a fire  burning in Butte County, as an “exceptionally dangerous and lethal” heat wave in the West is building. Cal Fire reported that three firefighters suffered injuries on the fire and thousands of people were still evacuated early today  near Oroville. Several others were injured today. 

Soaring temperatures — forecasted to hold into next week – have parched the already-dry vegetation in the area.

The Mercury-News reported that the Thompson Fire has spread around Oroville Dam — the tallest dam in the United States — at one point burning on the dam itself.

Authorities initially evacuated more than 28,000 people from Oroville and  neighboring communities in Butte County, and by Wednesday the fire had grown to almost 3600 acres with zero containment and temperatures well into the triple digits.

Thompson Fire evacuations -- Cal Fire map
Thompson Fire evacuations — Cal Fire map

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the fire area, according to CNN,  bringing on  additional suppression resources including the California National Guard.

The Mercury-News has a dandy photo gallery online; they reported that the Thompson Fire was one of a half dozen wildfires that started Tuesday in northern California and the Central Coast; it took off around 11 a.m. near Oroville.

More than 1,400 firefighters were working the fire, along with eight helicopters, 199 engines, and 46 bulldozers. Several large airtankers also were on the fire.

The town is about 20 miles south of Paradise, where the catastrophic Camp Fire killed more than 70 people in the 2018 disaster. The city of Oroville’s July 4 fireworks celebration was canceled by California State Parks on Wednesday.

WILDLAND FIRE CANADA: Conference registration now open

Registration is open for the 2024 Wildland Fire Canada Conference, a biennial conference scheduled for October 28 to November 1 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. It will bring together wildland fire management agencies, indigenous fire experts, scientists, and collaborators from across Canada and other countries.

Wildland Fire Canada Conference

The theme of this year’s conference is Transforming Wildland Fire Management, i.e. taking a collective and inclusive approach to wildland fire management in which Canadians at all levels of government work together to co-exist with wildland fire — including prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Registration rates (CAD):

Early registration (until 8/15) — $600
Registration (8/16 – 10/14) — $750
Late registration (10/14 – 10/28) — $800
Student registration — $250
One-day rate — $375
Virtual Registration — $300

Group registration available for virtual tickets:

            • $300/ticket for fewer than 5 tickets
            • $250/ticket for 6-10 tickets
            • $200/ticket for 11-20 tickets
            • $150/ticket for 20+ tickets

In-person registration: This includes access to all sessions and social activities. Registrants can access to the virtual conference platform to watch recorded presentations and network with remote attendees.

Virtual registration: This includes access to all sessions and online networking activities. Sessions will be recorded and made available for at least 6 months after the conference. You will receive access details about a week before the conference.

Join us in late October either in New Brunswick or online — or both — for this exciting collaboration with Canadian professionals and other international wildland fire experts!