How prepared are we to address forest fires?

Winter is here, the dreaded season for the foresters. This season, foresters throughout the country have to be alert because forest fires occur frequently. Winter is also difficult most of the people because of extreme cold.

When fire occurs, there is no excuse to be made. We must be on the run to douse the fire. Foresters, of all people, are conscious that our most important natural resource and the animals that have made it their home must be protected at all cost.

Winter is a time when foresters are extra alert. If there is plume of smoke over the distance, they need to go and see what is really happening there. They have very little time to verify whether forest fire is actually happening.

During winters, forests of all categories, be it vast extent of broad-leaved thickets in lower altitudes, or conifer forest up in the north, become critically vulnerable and susceptible to fire. This is because in winter the forest floor is filled with blankets of thick and dry biomass. Drop in temperature leads trees to shed leaves, twigs and small branches wither away, and shrubs and herbs become highly inflammable.

It just takes a small spark to ignite and the entire forest. Causes could be many – kids playing with fire, or careless smokers throwing away cigarette buds. It could be a farmer burning farm debris, or irresponsible camper letting fire go berserk.

The problem is our people do not think twice when they are engaged in activities that involve the use of fire.

One may think that a cigarette butt is too small to cause serious damage to environment. But dry grass of winter is highly susceptible to fire.

Here is a story, a real story of a forester by the name of Karma. He had done his daily morning round and was resting with a cup of hot tea. And just then, he got call on his handset.

“Charlie report…Charlie report.” 

“Reporting,” he answered.

“There is a forest fire. Get on your way.” 

“Where?” 

“Over and out!”

During emergencies, communication could be so pathetically inadequate. Karma had to call his friends to find out if they knew about the fire. He got dressed to battle the fire and waited for the information. None came in appeared like a long time.

When he finally got to the spot, the fire had gained momentum. It was raging. The few foresters who were there could do little. The best they could do was survey the area to see if the fire posed risks to human settlements. If there are risks involved, foresters have to divert their attention to saving the human settlements first. This time, they had to save a community lhakhang high up on the hill.

By the time they were done with constructing the firebreak, it was already dawn. Led by the gup, a big group of fire fighters from the locality joined the foresters. Foresters broke into groups, leading their own group of firefighters.

It took a long time for foresters to put off the fire that had already done considerable damage to the forest.

The thing is that this is only November, the beginning of the season of forest fire. The season continues until late March. The question is: how prepared are we? What can we do to prevent the loss of our priceless flora and fauna, our rich natural environment?

This is the season when our heads must be on fire to think about the many possibilities to address the problem. This is the season when we should be extra careful with fire. Above all else, we must all come together to save our forests that are home to many rare animal and bird species. It takes a generation for a small plant to grow into a fully-grown tree. It takes just a moment to destroy them all.

Our carelessness could have serious effect on our natural environment.

Contributed by Ugyen Tshering, Information and Communication Services (ICS), MoAF, Thimphu.

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