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The anatomy of forest fires in Kashmir

The Kashmir valley is home to some of the majestic wild animals. However, for the last decade, humans have destroyed their natural habitat. Seeing the destruction of their homes, these displaced animals have started migrating to safer areas. Many times these animals fall prey to humans as they stray into habitation in search of food.

It was after many efforts that the successive governments started rehabilitating these displaced animals in Dachigam National park.But the fear looms large as the safest place is fast turning unsafe for these species. Earlier, Maharajas of Jammu and Kashmir had used this park as a hunting reserve.

Dachigam (in Kashmiri) derives its name from the 10 villages that existed before the establishment of the protected sanctuary in 1981. The area of the park is spread across 141 sq kilometers and lies at a distance of approximately 22 kilometers from Srinagar.

During the last few years, Dachigam National Park has been struck by major forest fires endangering the life of rare wild animals. These fires had engulfed a major portion of the park, which is home to scores of Kashmir’s endangered species, including Hangul.
Last year, a prolonged dry spell triggered a massive fire in the forest areas surrounding Mahadev Peak at Dachigam National Park here. Situated at an altitude of 10000 feet, Mahadev is the highest mountain peak in Srinagar.

It is not for the first time that the sanctuary has witnessed the fire. Many incidents have been reported in the past when huge destruction was caused to its flora and fauna. Earlier in 2002, a similar kind of forest fire engulfed Dachigam National Park which turned a huge green area into ashes. In 2007, a major fire broke out at six different areas inside the National Park. While no loss was reported to the wild animals but a major portion of the vegetation was wiped out due to the fire.
It was followed by a fire of a similar kind in the year 2010 when the wildlife departments had to take assistance from the Fire Service and Emergency Department. It took authorities a long time to douse the flames because the fire tenders could not reach the spot. In 2012 and 2015, few portions of Dachigam National Park again were affected by the forest fire which led to huge damage to the habitation of wild animals.
Forest fires are posing a threat to the safety of animals in the national park. Wild Life Department said these incidents are common during the winter season. Officials said that the 10-year data has shown that the fire incidents in Dachigam are common during these months.
Despite multiple fire incidents reported inside the national park, the concerned department has failed to upgrade the infrastructure to guard the wild animals which are manned by just 23 officials.

Dachigam has been a center of attraction for tourists worldwide. Dense forests and variable terrain and range of altitude make Dachigam National Park an abode for a variety of species of animals and birds, many of which are endangered and rare.

Rare animals inside the park include Kashmir Stag (Hangul), Leopard, Snow Leopard, White-bellied Musk Deer, Himalayan Black Bear, Himalayan Brown Bear, the Otter, Yellow-throated Marten, Himalayan Weasel, Jackal, Long-tailed Marmot, Jungle-cat, Leopard Cat and Himalayan Fox, etc.
Avi-Fauna includes Monal Pheasant, Crimson Tragopan, Golden Eagles, Lammergeier Vultures, Blood Pheasant, Cinnamon Sparrows, Woodpeckers, Himalayan Rubythroat, Pygmy Owlets, Babblers, Orange Bullfinch, Golden Orioles, Kashmir Flycatcher, Black Bulbuls, and Koklass Pheasant, etc.
Jammu and Kashmir has a total forest cover of 20230 sq km (20.23 lakh hectares) accounting for 19.95% of the total Geographical area.

The forests in the Kashmir region mostly fall in the dry temperate class. These forests are predominantly having conifers consisting of Deodar, Kail, and Fir.
Forest fires in the state, particularly in the valley, have become frequent, especially during winters, causing damage to the habitation of rare wild animals and priceless flora. More than 55, 000 kanals of forest area has been destroyed in 859 wildfire incidents in Kashmir during the last five years.

Wildfires are uncontrolled blazes fueled by weather, wind, and dry underbrush. In recent years, vast tracts of land in the valley have been ravaged by forest fires. Forest Department data revealed that 859 wildfires engulfed 55,357 kanals of forest area between 2014 and 2018 in the valley.

Figures reveal that the highest number of incidents was reported during 2016-2017 when 371 fire-incidents damaged 30,202 kanals of forest land. This was followed by 192 wildfires engulfing 13,699 kanals of land during 2017-2018.

More than121 forest fires destroyed 4,171 kanals of land during 2015-2016. Similarly, 3,984 kanals of land were damaged in 111 wildfires during 2014-2015. The lowest number of forest fires were reported during the last fiscal when 64 incidents consumed 3,301 kanals of land. The most affected areas include the forests of Lidder and Kamraj with the number of wildfires ranging from 227 to 121, respectively
To stop these fires, Jammu and Kashmir Forest Department had come up with a distinctive mobile application. The application called Forest Fire Alert Mobile Application is developed by the Indian Institute of remote sensing/ forest fire reporting (IIRS/FFR).

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