Forest fires: Nature’s fury or Man-made disaster?

Forest fires: Nature’s fury or Man-made disaster?

Forest fires: Nature’s fury or Man-made disaster?


First Uttarakhand and now Himachal Pradesh, forest fires seem to be wreaking havoc and creating more disaster than the already soaring mercury in the country. There have been above 300 reports of forest fires which have been known to affect around 3000 hectares of area, destroying natural plantation and posing serious threat to environment.

Uttarakhand’s forest fire has been the worst that the state has encountered till date. Various reasons are being plotted for the disaster, some natural and some man-made. Allegations are being made with assumptions that someone did not do their job properly or someone overdid their job to give way to benefitting with evil intentions.

The cause for forest fire could either be the soaring temperature or the timber mafia who benefits from burning down of trees. Should forest fires be called nature’s fury or man-made disaster, either intentionally or unintentionally harming the environment in the process?

Nature’s fury

1. Temperature: The state of Uttarakhand has been under the spell of draught for two consecutive years. High temperature, El Nino, no atmosphere moisture, all contributed towards forest fires that ignited from combustible vegetation and spread ahead wild and wanton. In such scorching heat, sawdust and leaves, dry fuel combustion is what leads to forest fires. They cannot be blamed on human because temperature control is not something that humans have any will over.

2. Medium of combustion: The three medium of combustion that leads to forest fire are fuel, heat and oxygen and since all of these are present in the forests during summer season, it is not very difficult to deduce why the pines caught up under fires easily and kept on spreading through the entire forest. There is nothing humans could do to reduce these elements in forests because dried up leaves of tress act as natural fuel and oxygen level is quite high amid heavy plantation; in comes the summer heat and the fires ignite beyond control.

3. Science behind forest fires: When the natural combustibles in forest like wood, brush and leaves reache a certain overtly heated temperature, gas in the steam reacts with oxygen and fire is ignited. The flame coming from this fire preheats the combustibles in the surrounding which in turn react and act quickly to ignite more fire that spreads throughout the forest. Since there are combustibles present in the entire forest, naturally ignited forest fire spreads faster and unnoticed. Before the forest fires fighting team reaches the affected area, the flaming goes wanton, destructing everything in the process.

4. Lightning: A bolt from the blue can also ignite forest fires. The same science applies to this cause as well. The fuel is dried and heated up. There is enough oxygen in the atmosphere. A strike of lightning is all it takes for the combustibles to catch fire and they keep heating and igniting the surrounding areas until the whole forest is captured under the curse. Lightening is also not human controlled phenomenon and hence forest fires are natural disasters when causes this way.

5. Climate effect: It is not very difficult to see how climate changes are affecting life on earth and trees are also not spared just like humans. Vapor pressure deficit to known to be a major cause for forest fires. Very high temperature combined with lower humidity causes vapor pressure deficit which dry fuels quicker and leads to ignition.

Man-made disaster

1. Arson: Most forest fires have been found to have been intentionally set up by mafia who want the area cleared for their evil intentions. Burnt down trees are known to be of greater use to them. Samples from fire affected forests have shown some amount of arson which direct towards the fact that forest fires are usually set up by people.

2. Deforestation: The fad for building more townships and increasing civilization land for people results in want for more land. Since chopping down forests is illegal, some psychopaths resort to this measure with the intention of clearing out the area for human inhabitation. They usually take summer heat as the best opportunity to ignite fire and put the entire blame on nature so there is hardly any investigation on what could have caused the fires.

3. Unintentional: Campers, hikers, tribal people roaming the area could also unknowingly or carelessly contribute towards this disaster of environment. They could be burning garbage, or have left out ignited cigarettes, or leave behind highly combustible substances that they brought along. Early morning campers and hikers ignite fires to cook and sometimes leave seeing the fire gone off from the outside. There could still be flame on the inside that could keep burning and get carried off with a little rise in temperature of the afternoon.

4. Shifting cultivation: The fertility of the soil is reduced after an area has been cultivated upon for years. People practice shifting cultivation which is usually clearing the area by setting it on fires and then abandoning and moving to a new location, only to come back when fertility of the soil is restored. Locals ignite fire and leave without caring that the fire could go wild with a little help from nature. If done in a controlled environment this kind of fire is harmless but usually in forests they can contribute to wildfires.

5. Ill-prepared to rise to the challenges: It is being said that the state government and the forestry departments, despite being aware of the forest fires that are a constant phenomenon during the summer season, were not as prepared as they should be to tackle the fire immediately. There were also no measures installed to set on alarms when there were chances of fires igniting in any region. They are working on the installation procedures only after being criticized as of now.


Both natural extreme conditions like climate change and human carelessness have contributed towards the disaster of wilderness in India as well as many other countries where forest fires are a common occurrence during summer heat. People and government have never before paid much heed to it since they are usually far off from habitation areas but ignoring the ill effects forest fires have on environment is a mistake we are making constantly. It is about time when government makes measures to be prepared to handle such fires sooner and people must build pressure for the same to be done if they want clean and fresh air to breathe in.
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