DEHRADUN: The Forest Survey of India (FSI) has "completely revamped" the forest fire alerts system across the country, bringing in the 'Forest Fire Alerts System Version 2.0', making the entire process automated, including night-time alerts.
Additionally, officials said, the FSI has put in place an innovative system enabling them to forecast wildfire 10 to 12 weeks in advance.
The FSI is an organisation under the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests and its principal mandate is to conduct survey and assessment of forest resources in the country.
FSI Director General Saibal Dasgupta said automation of the whole process, including night-time fire alerts which was effected by the FSI, had led to a significant reduction in the time taken for data processing and sending alerts.
"The FSI is working on three aspects of forest fire - Near Real Time (NRT) Forest Fire alerts, Forest Fire Pre-warning alerts and Burnt scar studies," Dasgupta told PTI in an interview here, in the backdrop of the recent Kurangani forest fires in Tamil Nadu.
The Dehradun-based FSI had sent two e-mails, he said, providing the co-ordinates of the forest fires, to the nodal officer of Tamil Nadu Forest Department after receiving information from the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Hyderabad.
"The FSI, with years of experience and with a vast repository of fire-related data, has developed indigenous 'Pre-Warning Alert System'," deputy director FSI, E Vikram, said.
With the India Meteorological Department forecasting a searing hot summer this year, and average mean temperatures expected to remain more than a degree above normal, possibilities of forest fire will increase.
With anti-cyclonic winds fuelling the flames, the situation may become difficult.
Forest fire can thrive only when sufficient fuel is available and weather conditions are suitable for its initiation and spread, explained Vikram.
He said under favourable weather conditions, fires can spread quickly and become uncontrolable leading to loss of lives and property.
The season of the year when the weather conditions favour forest fires is called the 'fire season' and it coincides with the summer months in most parts of the country, except for the pastures in the high Himalayas which burn during the dry winter season.
Monsoon rains invariably mark the end of the fire season, he said.
FSI DG Dasgupta, who also holds the post of Additional DG of Forest in the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change, said that "uncontrolled fires" is one of the major causes of degradation of forests.
"Precious forest resources, including carbon locked in the biomass, is lost due to forest fires every year, which adversely impact the flow of goods and services from forests," he said.
Quoting a latest official report, he said forest fires are often caused intentionally by communities to promote grass growth, clear areas for shifting cultivation, clear forest floor for collection of non-timber forest products, and sometimes due to arson especially for hunting or encroaching up on forest land.
"Unintentional fires from cigarette/bidi butts sometimes cause havoc if not noticed at an early state," he said.
Giving details of the Forest Fire Alerts System, Vikram said SMS and e-mail alerts are provided as per requirement of users up to beat level.
Attributes such as Reserved Forests/Protected Forests can also be added to these fire alerts to enable field staff to identify the fire location accurately, he said.
Vikram said that by using the KeetchByram drought index (KBDI) - which is used to determining forest fire potential - fire danger can be forecast up to 10-12 weeks in advance.
He explained pre-warning alerts to state forest departments are based on parameters like Forest Cover, Forest Type, Climatic Variables (temperature, relative humidity and rainfall) and the recent fire incidences over the area.
"This can enable the state forest department to plan for a severe fire season well in advance," Vikram added.
The FSI has mapped all the 16 forest type groups and 178 forest types which have been brought out as "Forest Types of India - Atlas" in order to identify the vulnerable forest type groups.