Srinagar: Prolonged dry weather in Jammu and Kashmir has resulted in an alarming increase in forest fires in the region.
Wildfires are uncontrolled blazes fueled by weather, wind, and dry underbrush. Experts believe that long, dry periods witnessed this winter and ongoing spring, caused by increased warming, are a significant factor for more fires.
Forest department figures accessed by The Kashmir Monitor revealed that Kashmir has recorded around 80 incidents of wildfires in February and March this year. Likewise, fire incidents rose up to 285 in Jammu in these two months.
Data from NASA FIRMS’s satellites also confirms that J&K witnessed double the forest fire incidents this March-April so far, compared to the previous year’s March & April. In the first 13 days of April alone, 145 hotspot/active fires were detected in the UT.
“We have observed continuous dry conditions in March which is very unlikely as this month is considered wettest in terms of rainfall. Consequently, the landscapes have gone dry which are contributing to an increase in forest fires,” Senior Assistant Professor, Coordinator, Department of Geoinformatics, University of Kashmir, Dr. Irfan Rashid said.
The rise in forest fires is alarming in the sense that it’s not only the grass that burns but also the biodiversity associated with it, he explained.
“We have witnessed fires incidents of small scale so far. However, if the dry conditions continue to prevail, it might have some drastic consequences. For instance, our tree cover predominantly includes pines and conifers containing resin. Their burning can result in massive fires putting entire forests and nearby villages at risk,” Dr. Irfan said.
He noted the burning of trees can further lead to an increase in carbon emissions.
It’s worth mentioning that the risk factors for forest fires include litter, grass, fallen trees, and branches. Also, the fragmentation of most forests, interspersed with habitations of all sizes, results in high human presence in most forested areas which adds to their vulnerability to fires.
An official document stated that the vulnerable forest areas in Kashmir include Kehmil, Bandipur, Lidder, and Anantnag, while the forest fire vulnerability remains high in Nowshera, Reasi, Kathua, and Udampur in the Jammu region.
In the Kashmir region, fire occurs in the winter months but in certain pockets, fire also occurs in March-April, it said.
“Nearly 46 percent of the land area in UT lies below 2000-meter elevation. These areas are predominantly occupied by broad-leaved forests, Chin Pir forests, and scrub which in the dry season account for most of the fire incidences. Highly vulnerable Chin Pir forests contribute to the fire regime by huge availability of dry needles in summer season which are slow to decompose but quick to catch fire under favorable conditions,” the document said.