India’s Forest Service has reported 1,006 wildfire alerts to the northern state of Uttarakhand since November 1, according to the Times of India. That number is up from the 556 wildfire alerts the service reported during the same time last year.
The increase is part of a worrying and destructive cycle that has escalated in the area for the past six years. Uttarakhand has had triple the acres burned by wildfires since 2017, worsened by its first-ever repeated occurrence of winter wildfires, or wildfires outside of the state’s usual fire season of February 15 to June 15.
“The unusual shift in the fire season may be linked to different reasons including climate change, the lockdown, or too much human intervention in the forests,” Arti Chaudhary, the head of Silviculture and Forest Resource Management Division at the Forest Research Institute, told the Times. “A five-year study across 15 states of the country that witness forest fires, including Uttarakhand, has been initiated to thoroughly understand the actual reasons behind this shift, as it has been recorded all over the country.”
The winter wildfires also contributed to the state’s above-average wildfire carbon emissions in 2021. Uttarakhand’s wildfires emitted an estimated 0.2 megatonnes of carbon in March 2021 alone, breaking a record set in 2003, according to Copernicus Climate Change Service scientist Mark Parrington.
Northern India’s skies took on a hazy hue in November caused in part by the unusual wildfire shift, NASA satellites show. The haze is reportedly a seasonal occurrence caused by urban pollution entering the atmosphere when seasonal weather patterns trap air pollution near the ground, but smoke from the unseasonal wildfires made the air quality even worse.
On Sunday, three forest watchers were killed after they were trapped inside a major wildfire in the Vadakkanchery forest range in the Thrissur district of Kerala.
Divakaran, Velayudhan, and Shankaran were killed while trying to douse a fire that broke out at Desamangalam on the district’s border.
The fire which, authorities believe was set deliberately by some miscreants was reported on Sunday morning and by afternoon it had got out of control.
Following the death of the three guards, there are allegations that the department was not prepared to deal with wildfires, which is going to spike in the next few months.
In fact, it is not just Kerala, forest departments across the country are severely ill-equipped when it comes to controlling wildfires. The kind of deployment of resources in Australia bushfire is something that India can only dream of. Many see this as the result of not having a well thought out policy at the national level.
Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers of the three men.
Two other firefighters suffered serious burn injuries while suppressing the 400-acre fire.
A firefighter was killed February 18 while fighting a fire in Bandipur National Park in India. It was reportedly the first time a wildland firefighter in the southern state of Karnataka has died in the line of duty.
The victim, identified as Murugappa Gouda Thammannanavar, was part of a team suppressing a fire in the Bandipura Tiger Reserve. Two others who suffered serious burns initially treated at a local hospital were later transferred to KR hospital in Mysuru.
“There was wind blowing from all directions and Murugappa could not escape from the spreading flames,” said Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Ranga Rao.
Below is an excerpt from an article in The Hindu:
While the immediate cause of the fire is not known, it has been established that most of the fires are caused by humans. In many cases, the dry vegetation is set ablaze by miscreants from the local community to wreak revenge when they are booked by the authorities for being in conflict with the law.
Bandipur is going through one of the worst dry spells in recent memory and though forest fires are an annual affair in view of its dry deciduous vegetation, the intensity of drought this year is high. The national park has suffered from two consecutive years of dry spell, and the failure of the southwest monsoon this year has aggravated the situation.
There are 373 waterholes in the national park, which is spread over 874 sq. km, but nearly 350 of them have gone dry.
Bandipur National Park is known for its tigers, Indian elephants, spotted deer, gaurs (bison), antelopes, and numerous other native species.
Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Thammannanavar’s friends, family, and co-workers, and we hope the two injured firefighters have a speedy recovery
Also on Thursday a man in Halstead, Kansas was fatally burned trying to put out a grass fire. After his pants caught on fire while trying to stomp out flames, Fred Rodenberg suffered 4th and 5th degree burns over 50 percent of his body.
In India, Robert Lobo, 58, died Friday after becoming entrapped by a fire while he was cutting trees in the forest in the district of Kasaragod.
In Chile the death of a woman in her 60s who suffered a heart attack was blamed on a large wildfire that required the evacuation of 7,000 people near Valparaiso. Thirty-two people were injured, including 19 firefighters, a spokesperson from the National Emergency Office said. Five of the firefighters were badly injured, but their lives were not in danger.
In northeast Nebraska on Friday an elderly man suffered burns on his legs when he tried to put out a grass fire that started when strong winds blew embers out of a burn barrel. The fire blackened 30 acres near Crofton.