Fires are a major cause of forest degradation and have wide ranging adverse ecological, economic and social impacts including:
Effects of forest fire:
- Loss of valuable timber resources: Forest fires cause indispensable loss to timber and deteriorate its quality. Valuable timber species like teak, sal, chir, deodar, sheesam, rosewood etc. are adversely affected by fire. However, the adhesive impact of forest fire varies from species to species, depending upon its susceptibility.
- Impact of forest fire on eco- system: Forest fires pose threat not only to the forest wealth but also to the entire regime to fauna and flora seriously disturbing the bio-diversity and the ecology and environment of a region.
- Degradation of water catchments areas resulting into loss of water: After forest fire, the chemical and physical changes in upper layer of soil make it impervious and thus reduce water infiltration. The removal of litter also decreases water holding capacity of soil and most of the rainwater is washed away removing top fertile soil of the forest resulting into loss of soil fertility.
- Loss of wildlife habitat and depletion of wildlife: Wildfire along with killing wild animals also destroys their habitat and thus makes their survival at stake.
- Loss of natural vegetation and reduction of forest cover: As a result of fires, millions of hectares of the forest area turn to ashes and remains of no use. Among various degradation factors, forest fire is also one of the major factors for overall loss in forest cover. The wild fires also have adverse impact on forest tree growth.
- Global Warming: Greenhouse gases released during the combustion of vegetations lead to an increased warming of the earth or human induced global climate change.
- Microclimate change: The changed microclimate caused by removal of litter and duff, opening of the canopy by killing over storey shrubs and trees and darkening of the soil surface by residual soot and charcoal can increase insulation causing temperature increase. As a result the changed area becomes unhealthy for living of both wild habitats and local people.
- Health problems leading to diseases: The fires in the forest are source of smoke that cause air pollution and rise in the temperature leading to various health issues.
- Loss of livelihood: Forest fire also adversely affect livelihood resources, especially for tribals, who are directly dependent upon collection of non-timber forest products from forest areas for their livelihood.
- Carbon sequestration potential: Trees act as carbon sinks when they absorb carbon dioxide from atmosphere and build up the same in the form of wood. However, burning of the vegetation release hundreds of years of stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and thus results into permanent destruction of important sink of carbon dioxide
- Threat to Life and Property: Human life is at risk when fire crews fight fires either at the fire front or from conflict with animals, especially elephants. A forest fire that spreads outside the forest can consume buildings or infrastructure.
- Reducing Tourism Values: Smoke due to fires affects the visibility and air quality which adversely affect tourism industry.
Taking into consideration the serious nature of the problem, there is urgent need to focus on key forest fire management elements like strategic fire centres, coordination among Ministries, funding, human resource development, fire research, fire management, and extension programmes.