Methods of protection against damage by fire can be broadly grouped into the following:
1. Preventive Measures.
2. Remedial Measures.
1. Preventive Measures:
Those measures which prevent the occurrence or at least the chances of occurrence of fire are called preventive measures.
They can be further grouped into the following:
A. Indirect preventive measures.
B. Direct preventive measures.
A. Indirect Preventive Measures:
Indirect preventive measures are those measures which, though not directly connected with the causes of fire or factors affecting fire environment, reduce the fire risk.
The following are some of the indirect preventive measures:
i. Goodwill of the Local People:
Goodwill of the local people will effectively stop cases of deliberate fires. The goodwill of the local people can be earned and they can be prevented also from making up their minds to set fire to the forest, by granting them rights and concessions in collecting NTFP, etc., by providing alternative livelihood, by giving them as much employment in the forest works as possible, etc. By earning the goodwill of the local people, their spontaneous help in extinguishing fires when they occur accidentally will also be available.
ii. Education of Public Opinion:
Accidental fires can be avoided by educating public opinion through press, radio and television, posters, film shows and lectures in local languages, about the causes of fires and their effect.
iii. Forbidding Collection of Certain Items of NTFPS during Summer:
Permission for collection of horns and bones of wild animals, collection of honey by smoking bees away during summer season increases the chances of accidental as well as deliberate fires.
iv. Denial of Benefits Which Accrue from Forest Fires:
Villagers sometimes deliberately burn the forest so that new flush of green grass may appear on the forest floor for their cattle to graze. The easiest way to prevent such fires is to deny the benefit of grazing to villagers in fire-burnt areas. The provisions of section 26(3) and 33(2) of Indian forest Act, 1927 should be invoked to close burnt areas in reserved and protected forests respectively for the exercise of all rights of pasture and other forest produce for some years. This will have a deterrent effect on the villagers.
v. Action against Dereliction of Duty and Reward for Conscientious Work in Preventing Fires:
During the fire season, the action taken by staff and other people should be properly supervised and reviews so that those found guilty of dereliction of duty could be punished and those found working conscientiously should be rewarded. Efforts should also be made to involve local people and JFMC members in fire protection work.
vi. Putting Up Notices Prohibiting Kindling, Keeping and Carrying of Fire in Forest Areas in Fire Season:
It creates public awareness and may be useful to some extent.
B. Direct Preventive Measures:
Direct preventive measures are those measures which directly affect the factors of fire environment and causes of fire and thus help in prevention of fire. These measures are called pre-suppression measures and cover all activities carried out in advance of fire occurrence.
The following are the important direct preventive measures or pre-suppression operations:
i. Forecasting of dangerous burning days.
ii. Organization, training and detailing of staff for fire control activity.
iii. Hazard reduction.
Hazard reduction comprises the following activities:
Clearing camping sites and areas along paths and roads particularly at the beginning of summer season and keeping hazard free till the onset of monsoon.
b. Early Burning:
Early burning is defined as controlled burning early in the dry season before the leaves and undergrowth are completely dry or before the leaves are shed, as an insurance against later fire damage. The object of early burning is to burn down all inflammable material such as grass shrubs, fallen leaves and wood before the commencement of hot weather so that occurrence of fire may be prevented.
c. Burning of Grassy Blanks:
Grassy blanks inside the forests are burnt well before the fire season as a measure of hazard reduction and this has proved fairly efficacious in reducing fire incidence in many parts of the country.
d. Slash Disposal in Hill Forest and Controlled Burning in Resin Tapping Areas:
Slash is the unusable residue after logging viz., branches, tops, bark, un- utilizable logs, uprooted stumps, broken or uprooted trees left on the area and also any large accumulation of debris after wind or fire. Slash disposal is defined as the treatment or handling of slash for reducing hazards from fire, insects or fungi and for providing the seeds with access to soil.
e. Burning a Belt around Plantations/Natural Regeneration Areas:
In order to protect some valuable forests, plantations or natural regeneration areas, it is usual to burn a belt of sufficient width around such areas so that in case of accidental fire, it may not enter the plantation/natural regeneration area or some other valuable forest proposed to be fire protected. But, such burning should be done carefully so that it may not start an accidental fire.
f. Raising of Fire-Breaking Green Belts:
Evergreen species such as Wendlandia, Eugenia, etc., are sometimes grown to form fire-breaking belt around Shola forests in Nilgris, Tamil Nadu. Strobilanthes with its juicy stems often acts as a natural fire break in evergreen forests.
g. Clearance of Firelines:
Fire line is defined as a cleared permanent fire break intended to prevent fires from crossing from one area to another. Fire break is an existing barrier, natural or otherwise, or one prepared before a fire occurs from which all or most of the inflammable materials have been removed, designed to stop light ground or surface fires and to serve as a line from which to work and counter-fire, if necessary; also to facilitate the movement of men and equipment in firefighting. Firelines are of two kinds – internal firelines and external firelines.
Internal firelines are those firelines which are situated inside the forest to prevent fires raging inside the forest to spread to that part of the forest which is beyond the fireline. Thus they localize the fire burning inside the forest.
External firelines are those firelines which are located along the outer boundary of the forest to prevent any fire raging outside the forest from entering the forest.
2. Remedial Measures:
Remedial measures refer to those measures which are taken to extinguish fires when they break out in spite of the preventive measures. As the greater the delay in starting fire control measures after its occurrence, the greater are the difficulties because of large area and fierceness of fire and the greater are the losses.
The delay can be avoided by quick detection, quick communication of occurrence of fire to range or other sub-headquarter and quick action to suppress fire.
For quick detection of forest fires, fire watchers are engaged during fire season for ground patrolling and fire water towers are erected in fire prone areas. On the hills, however, the fire watcher is supposed to go to high ridges in his beat and locate the occurrence of fires. FSI (Forest Survey of India) has also started the monitoring of forest fire across the country and the information on active fire locations are disseminated by SMS/e-mail to the State Forest Departments to enable them to quickly act upon to extinguish the fire.
ii. Quick Communication of the Occurrence of Fire to Range and Other Sub-Headquarters:
Communication has now become a possibility with the arrival of mobile phones. Wireless sets also serve the purpose efficiently particularly in remote localities.
iii. Quick Action for Suppression of Fire:
On receipt of the report of the occurrence of fire, the range officer has to take quick action to arrange for the suppression of fire. This requires arrangement for labour (from adjacent villages)/JFMC members and tools, and for food, water and lighting and quick transport for all these items/personnel to the place of fire occurrence.
Participatory Approach in Fire Prevention and Control:
The community based fires management has to rely extremely on the positive relationship between the people in the rural space and their forest. Mutual confidence and public support has to be created by participatory approached e.g., incentives, income generation activities, involvement in production enterprises, etc. for involvement of communities in fire prevention and control.
Community Involvement in Forest Fire Prevention and Control:
Over the years, there has been a significant decline in the prioritisation of fire management in the forest management objectives. With various social sectors competing for funds, the funding for the fire prevention and control has also gone down or has been diverted to schemes like ’employment generation’ or even the establishment expenses of the forest department. In fact at present most of the states do not have any regular schemes/funds for prevention and control of forest fires.
With meagre human resource at its disposal (e.g., as per one of the estimates on an average 500 ha of forests have to be patrolled by one forest guard), the forest departments in most of the states are poorly equipped to prevent or control the spread of forest fires. This situation and the fact that forests are under tremendous pressure, due to increasing population pressure and hence commensurate demand of land, forest products etc. necessitates exploration of alternatives to arrest this phenomenon.
Attempts to elicit people’s participation in fire control offers hope of minimising the damage caused by fires. In this context Joint Forest Management (JFM) assumes an important role in fire prevention and control. JFM has been a significant development in the context of institutional arrangements pertaining to forest management in India. The effective involvement of local communities in evolving sustainable forest management systems was looked upon as an important approach to address the long-standing problems of deforestation and land degradation in India.
The National Forest Policy (1988) and Joint Forest Management (JFM) Guidelines (1990) of the Government of India acknowledged and endorsed this system of management, which supports the involvement of village communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the regeneration, management and protection of degraded forests. The conducive environment created by these enabling legal and administrative measures is manifested in the fact that as many as 22 State Governments have issued directions to the respective State Forest Departments for adoption of JFM.
In India about 36,130 forest protection committees are protecting about 10.25 million ha of forest area in the country (MoEF 1999). These committees operational in various states are assisting the forest department in forest protection (including fire prevention and control) and management, though the extent of participation and contribution to efforts varies.
A very definitive lesson and pre-requisite for community based approach to fire management, which emerges out of the JFM experience in forest protection, is that the forest dependent communities with stake in forests would be sufficiently motivated to prevent and control forest fires if their livelihood and subsistence needs are met. The JFM program is an example of a participatory approach in which people co-operate with forest department in forest protection in return for economic benefits.
Awareness and Training on Forest Fire Prevention and Losses Due to Fires to the Community:
Most important reason for failure of prevention of forest fires is related to the fact that communities do not realize the economic and ecological losses due to forest fires. Therefore, an efficient motivation strategy for fire prevention requires an initial understanding of the cultural, socio-economic and psychological background of community perception of fires losses.
The level of community awareness of the potential losses that could result from forest fires and the assurance of economic incentives in the form of fuel wood, fodder or NTFP, etc., to JFMC/VFC members are the important factors that can motivate the communities to protect the forests from fire. Formal training in forest fire prevention and control is invaluable for preparing a nucleus of JFMC members for leading fire prevention and control programs.
Strategy to Prevent and Control Forest Fire through JFM:
Proper planning is imperative for fire prevention. This calls for the three general approaches to work in tandem i.e. Education, Engineering and Enforcement. Motivation of community to participate in fire prevention and control should follow education to underscore its importance. An important strategy in fire prevention is to educate the villagers in the forest area and along its fringe regarding the care required to keep fires well under control if lit for legitimate purposes like for example, subjecting agricultural plots to a light burn as a pre-monsoon preparation.
An education strategy must appreciate that a series of edicts will not work unless the villagers are convinced about the harmful effects of fire in context of their dependence on the forest resource. Also villagers believe most in what they see than what they hear. Taking groups of villagers to burnt areas and explaining the fire effects will be useful.
Hazard reduction or limiting the exposure of forests to fire risks constitutes mainly the engineering aspect. This also included clearing along paths, early and control burning of vulnerable areas, fire lines etc. Ensuring that the public abides by the rules and regulation set out for prevention of fires calls for effective enforcement of regulations.
Finally, while community participation is important, it needs to be further augmented with appropriate:
(a) Pre-fire planning and fire prevention strategy like developing fire plans, fire maps, capacity building through training, pilot demonstration,
(b) Fire suppression mechanism, and
(c) If necessary post-fire rehabilitation and management.
The Indian Forest Act 1927 has two types of provisions, viz.:
(i) For those who are bound to extinguish fire but do not discharge their duty in putting out that fire, and
(ii) For those who set fire to or kindle or carry fire in reserved and protected forests in certain seasons.
(i) According to section 79 (1), a person who exercises any right in a reserved or protected forest, or is permitted to take any forest-produce from or to cut and remove timber or to pasture cattle in, every person in any village contiguous to forest who is employed by the government, or who receives emoluments from the government for services to be performed to the community, is bound to take steps, whether required by any forest officer or police officer or not, to extinguish any forest fire in such forest of which he has information.
If such a person does not discharge his obligation and does not take steps to extinguish any forest fire in reserved or protected forest he shall, according to section 79 (2), be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees or with both. In order to get a man convicted under this section, it is necessary to prove that he belongs to one of the categories of persons mentioned under section 79 (1) and that he has not done one of the things he was required to do by that section.
(ii)(a) According to section 26(1)(b), any persons who sets fire to a reserved forest or in contravention of any rules, made by the State Government in this behalf, kindles fire or leaves any fire burning in such manner as to endanger such a forest is punishable. This section provides for setting fire to a reserved forest from outside and for kindling fire and leaving it burning outside the reserved forest against rules made by State Government, so as to endanger such forest.
(ii) (b) According to section 26 (1) (c), any person who, in a reserved forest kindles, keeps or carries any fire except at such seasons as the forest officer may notify in this behalf shall be punishable. This section makes kindling, keeping or carrying of fire inside the reserved forest an offence if it had been done against the order of the forest officer. In such cases it has to be proved that the Divisional Forest Officer had prohibited these acts and had notified the season for information of general public.
The persons convicted under section 26(1) (b) as well as section 26(1) (c) of I.F.A. are punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees or both in addition to such composition for damage done to the forest as the convicting court may direct to be paid. The M.P. Government has, by an amendment, made the maximum term of imprisonment as one year and the maximum amount of fine as one thousand rupees.
(ii) (c) According to section 33 (1) (d) any person who sets fire to a protected forest or kindles a fire without taking all reasonable precaution to prevent its spreading to any tree reserved under section 30, whether standing, fallen or felled or any closed portion of such forest shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees or with both.