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Forest fires

The Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System

Brian Simpson's picture
On November 1-3, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the World Bank organized a workshop in Delhi to discuss forest fire prevention and management.  The workshop brought together fire experts and practitioners from eight countries along with Indian government officials from the ministry and the state forest departments, as well as representatives from academia and civil society. Brian Simpson, an analyst with the Canadian Forest Service, shares his perspective on how Canada developed its national fire danger rating system and how this system has helped in preventing, detecting and suppressing forest fires in that country. Canada's experience may serve as an inspiration as India continues to develop its own fire danger rating system, adapting it to local conditions and management needs.
 
Canada is a big country, with a lot of forest and a lot of water. Fires are common, and are concentrated in the boreal forest region, a band of forest that stretches around the whole northern hemisphere. On average, out of around 400 million ha of forest, about 8,000 fires and 2.5 million ha burn per year. And dozens of communities and tens of thousands of people need to be evacuated each year.
 
People are mostly concentrated along the southern border with the United States, where it’s warmer. A lot of the northern communities are actually indigenous, and many of them are only accessible by air or water. If there is a road, it’s the only road. These communities are often threatened by wildfires, and are frequently evacuated due to this threat.
 
Ultimately, Canada has three main problems with respect to wildland fire - prevention, detection, and suppression.  The Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS) helps with each, though it’s only part of the solution. It helps with prevention by allowing fire managers to know where the risk of fires is higher. It helps with detection by giving fire managers a place and time to look for new fires. And it helps with suppression by providing some guidance about how the fire will behave. Beyond fire prevention, detection and suppression, CFFDRS helps with planning, response, risk assessment, smoke modelling, and even carbon emissions from these fires.
 Gts/Shutterstock.com
Photo Credit: Gts/Shutterstock.com

With respect to wildland fire, the Government of Canada has a mandate to provide for the safety and security of Canadians, to protect critical infrastructure, to mitigate the effects of climate change, and to aid the implementation of other Sustainable Development Goals like reducing poverty and improving health. All are aided by the CFFDRS.

Spotting fires from space helps India’s foresters

E. Vikram's picture
 Vikas Gusain (April 2017)
Almost all fires in India are set by people intentionally or unintentionally. Ground fire in Chir Pine forests in Gumkhal, Pauri Garwal District, Uttarakhand, India. Credit: Vikas Gusain (April 2017)

The three-day international workshop on forest fires organized by the World Bank and the Forest Ministry of India is a watershed event in the management of forest fires in the country (1-3rd November 2017). On the first day, discussions were held on the latest technology being used to alert foresters to fires.

Almost all fires in India are set by people intentionally or unintentionally. For instance, forest-dependent communities in central India burn the forest floor to encourage the growth of tender tendu leaves, and to collect mahua flowers which standout easily on the charred forest floor.

In the northeast and some parts of central India, forests are rotationally burnt to ashes to enrich the soil for agriculture. After a few seasons of cropping, the depleted area is left to nature and the trees grow back once again. In the western Himalayas, pine needles are cleared every year to encourage the growth of grass for cattle-fodder. When pine needles full of resin pile up year after year, it takes just one spark from a careless smoker to burn down an entire forest of enormous value.

In remote areas, forest fires may not be detected for hours or even days, leading to an irreversible loss of forest wealth. Like any other hazard, the earlier one gets to know about the outbreak, the better it is for both the authorities and the people. Since traditional ways of gathering information from people perched on watch towers are not very effective, satellite sensors that can detect heat and smoke from space have now come to the rescue of foresters across the country.   

Today, the Forest Survey of India, in partnership with the National Remote Sensing Centre, uses these satellite detections to alert foresters across the country about the exact location of forest fires. All steps in the detection and dissemination process have been fully automated – including the processing of satellite data, filtering out fires that burn outside forests, composing personalized SMSs to relevant people, as well as sending them across. This system has helped fire alerts to reach people within 45 minutes to 1 hour of detection, enabling foresters to reach the spot quickly and contain the damage.

India joins other countries in tackling forest fires

Christopher Sall's picture

Fire has been a part of India’s landscape since time immemorial. Every year, forest fires rage through nearly every state, ravaging more than half of India’s districts. Today, with growing populations in and around the forests, these fires are putting more lives and property at risk.  Indian Space Research Organization estimates that in 2014 alone, nearly 49,000 sq.km of forests - larger than the size of Haryana – were burned during the peak fire months of February to May. And, this was a mild year compared to the recent past! 



But, forest fires can also be beneficial. They play a vital role in maintaining healthy forests, recycling nutrients, helping trees to regenerate, removing invasive weeds and lantana, and maintaining habitat for some wildlife.  Occasional fires can also keep down fuel loads that feed larger, more destructive conflagrations.  However, as populations and demands on forest resources grow, the cycle of fires has spun out of balance, and the fires no longer sustain forest health.  In fact, in many countries, wildfires are burning larger areas, and fire seasons are growing longer due to a warming climate.