By Nawaz Yasin Islam
SHILLONG: The onset of spring season characterized by a rather dry and windy climate synonymously sees an upsurge of the havoc of forest fires in Meghalaya.
Forest fires have become a regular phenomenon during the months of December to April, with main causes that can be attributed to the dry and windy weather, not to forget human error and most importantly a lackadaisical attitude on the importance of having a thick belt of flora.
Authorities from the emergency response centre of GVK EMRI Meghalaya have informed that regular distress calls on the occurrence of forest fires together with reports of houses being on fire were received by them over the past few days with a staggering number of nine calls being received on a particular day.
GVK EMRI sources highlighted that the dry wind conditions aided the spread of fire, thereby maximizing damage to forest and property.
The biggest of casualties was reported from Sur-Bathiang Bird Sanctuary in Ri Bhoi District in which over three hundred acres of forest cover was razed to the ground following an uncontrolled fire resulting from the random burning of hills and valleys by people at large.
This fire, massive in nature, lasted from March 31 to April 2 and habitats of birds of exquisite nature have all been destroyed.
Speaking to The Shillong Times, VK Nautiyal, former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, while highlighting the detrimental effect of forest fires said, “99.99% of the fires are caused by deliberate human acts which result in severe damage to the flora and fauna. Soil organic matter is destroyed which ruins quality of soil; micro fauna in soil gets destroyed which are vital for the productivity of soil.”
Forest fire is sometimes desirable or detrimental in specific season to the ecosystem, but forest fire is used for different means and purposes by the human beings from time to time. It has been used for clearing the agricultural land, driving away the wild beast, for cooking, for heat, for light, pasture land or regeneration of floral and faunal habitation
Ecologists informed that burning of grass and shrubs during the dry months is ecologically destructive because when the first rains come before the grass and other plants have resurfaced, there is heavy runoff and soil lies completely exposed to the elements.
The detrimental impact of forest fires on the ecosystem is far from what was thought earlier. Scientists working in this field have argued that controlled fires are actually beneficial. Published works state that microbial population gets destroyed completely just after the burning and re-colonization occurs after some days.
Bacteria and actinomycetes are found to be the first colonizers followed by fungi. Burning initiates better growth and higher population of bacteria.
Proper sensitization of the masses is needed in this regard whereby people have to be instructed to make sure that sources of fire like burning coal, cigarettes, matchsticks and camp fire during picnics are properly put off to prevent the spread of fire.
In the rural areas, forest fires were started by people who believed that large amount of smoke would attract the rains!
The fires usually chucked up all the tall grass lands along with the saplings which had naturally sprouted or planted during the torrential rains. There were fire-lines around the property but anybody could hurl a lit up torch across these fire- breaks into the grasslands.
With the Fire Service Week being held from April 14 to 20 every year, it remains to be seen if measures to tackle such accidents will be addressed by the concerned departments.