KOCHI: With the mercury already hovering in the high 30s and a blistering summer appearing quite likely, the Forest Department has initiated steps to prevent and mitigate the outbreak of wildfires which had scorched 2,900 ha of forest cover in the state last year. This year the department had received around 100 fire alerts from the Forest Fire Alert System, a Satellite-generated national database maintained by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), Dehradun.
P K Kesavan, Principal CCF (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, said, " Barring a few places like Idukki and Wayanad, we got normal rainfall in the state this year. If we receive normal summer showers in the coming two months, the risk of wildfire will be minimal. However, the department is leaving nothing to chance."The department has nearly completed the creation of fire lines and construction of watch towers ahead of the peak summer and ordered the shutting down of vulnerable sanctuaries, including Silent Valley, Paramabikulam and Wayanad sanctuaries and Eravikulam national park, for the next two months. There will also be restrictions on entry of visitors to the other vulnerable areas in the coming months, he said.
According to the Principal CCF, the department has not assessed the extent of losses suffered by the state due to wildfire in the previous years. However, he said the state has lost a large extent of forest cover - around 5,000 ha of forest land - during the 2010-11 period. Since then, the department has been maintaining a close vigil every summer by drawing up an action plan based on previous experiences to prevent the recurrence of such incidents during the peak summer months.
This year also, the Social Forestry Department has undertaken a slew of awareness campaigns, including organising flash mobs, cycle and bike rallies by roping in students and youth, he said. The data available with the FSI shows there was an increase in number of forest fire alerts from 2014 onwards. In 2014, the state received 114 fire alerts while it was 91 in 2015 and 165 in 2016. This year Idukki, Wayanad and Palakkad accounted for majority of the fire alerts received by the department.
Wayanad and Idukki are two of the most vulnerable areas for forest fires in the state as they are monsoon deficient. Though the department expects a subdued a weather during the coming summer, the data available with the Meteorological Department shows the state has been witnessing a 58 per cent shortfall in seasonal rainfall during the January 1 -February 7 period against the long period average.