Why are forest fires in the Indian hills intensifying this summer?

Why are forest fires in the Indian hills intensifying this summer?

By Onkar Sharma

Summer in India is far from a breeze, especially for those who romanticize the idea of escaping to the hills to beat the heat. Allow me to dispel any illusions. As the sweltering season descends, the forests of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh erupt into flames, blanketing the serene landscape in a shroud of smoke. For nature enthusiasts like us, deeply rooted in the love for our homeland, this annual occurrence is a bitter pill to swallow.

As I look at the recent satellite data and delve into the grim statistics, it’s hard not to feel a sense of foreboding and disbelief. Everything is burning, incinerating into ash. Forest fires, once sporadic and contained, are now raging with unprecedented ferocity, consuming vast expanses of precious greenery at an alarming rate. The figures are staggering – nearly twice as much tree cover burned globally compared to two decades ago. The relentless march of these infernos knows no bounds, ravaging pristine landscapes and threatening biodiversity hotspots with equal fervor.

The heart-wrenching reality hits home even harder when we zoom into the situation in my own country, India. Our forests, once teeming with life and vitality, are now engulfed in flames that seem to have a life of their own. The peak fire season, stretching over 14 weeks from mid-February, unleashes a relentless onslaught on our natural heritage. The statistics paint a bleak picture – over 14,000 VIIRS fire alerts reported in just one year, a stark departure from the norm.

Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, the verdant jewels of the Himalayas, bear the brunt of this fiery onslaught. As the scorching summer sun beats down mercilessly, the hillsides ignite in a deadly dance of flames. In a single month, hundreds of forest fires tear through the landscape, leaving behind a trail of devastation. In April alone, Himachal Pradesh counted close to 750 infernos, while Uttarakhand witnessed over 1,500 fire incidents, a grim testament to the magnitude of the crisis.

The early onset of summer and prolonged dry spells have only exacerbated the situation, thwarting even the most valiant efforts of the state authorities to contain the blazes. The toll on our precious tree cover is immeasurable, with hectares upon hectares succumbing to the relentless onslaught of flames. But the impact extends far beyond just the loss of greenery. With each tree consumed by fire, carbon emissions soar, further exacerbating the climate crisis that fuels these infernos in the first place.

As I reflect on the escalating crisis of forest fires, both at home and abroad, a sense of urgency grips me. The need for effective measures to prevent and manage these fires has never been more pressing. We cannot afford to be mere spectators in the face of this ecological catastrophe. It’s time to take decisive action, to stand together in solidarity against the ravages of intensifying forest fires before it’s too late. For if we fail to act now, we risk losing not just our forests, but our very future.

As visitors to the hill stations, we must follow the rules and not harm the environment through our unruly behavior. At the same time, people living in the hills need to be a little more responsible and not light up fires to burn waste and grass on the mountainside.


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