Time for firefighting

AS INDIAN Army personnel and Air Force helicopters were pressed into service to battle a raging fire that had started in the Seshachalam forests in southern India’s Andhra Pradesh state last week and already devoured part of it, it is a warning bell for further disasters. As summer descends and forests turn as dry as tinder box, even a tiny spark can lead to a devastating conflagration.

While sometimes fires start due to natural causes, oftener than not they are due to criminal carelessness by human beings. Besides leading to human tragedy, forest fires destroy wildlife and other life thriving in the ecosystem of forests, dealing yet another blow to Mother Earth.

Every year, forest fires create havoc both in developing and developed nations. They raze down green land and along with it human habitation in Nepal almost every year. They have been reported in the US in recent times. With global warming leading to climate change with erratic rainfall, this year parts of California have suffered drought. A brush fire broke out in southern California’s Angeles National Forest in January, burning down at least one house. Last year, raging wildfires west of Sydney ravaged over 300,000 acres of land and this time, the menace is back again. Triggered by lightning and escalated by a heat wave, at least 90 fires have been reported in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state.

Forest fires are also linked with burgeoning populations. As the number of inhabitants increases and human beings encroach on forest land, either for livelihood or shelter, they start off fires, often unintentionally. Once a forest fire spreads, even after it is extinguished, the damage continues. The smoke and carbon emissions lead to a deterioration in the quality of the air while flying ash and other materials can pollute water supplies. Since forests play a key role in attracting moisture and causing rainfall, the destruction of forests will reduce rainfall, adding to droughts. In addition, there are deliberate destruction of forests — like in Malaysia and Indonesia, where farmers use the cleared land for cultivating cash crops like the oil palm. Prolonged blazes last year caused thick fog-like smog to envelop Singapore and parts of Brunei as well, leading to a spike in respiratory diseases and heated exchange of words among the nations.

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