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Worst forest fire in Goa: Man-made or climate change disaster?

Over the past few days, a series of forest fires have broken out in Goa. The fires have been fueled by a long dry spell and high summer

By Ground report
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Worst forest fire in Goa: Man-made or climate change disaster?

Over the past few days, a series of forest fires have broken out in Goa. The fires have been fueled by a long dry spell and high summer temperatures with low humidity, which have created a conducive environment for fire.

The fires have primarily occurred in deciduous areas and have been surface fires, burning loose and dried vegetation, shrubs, small trees, and saplings that are close to the ground. Due to the burning debris, smoke and fumes have covered a large area.

On Saturday, the ministry stated that the forest fires in Goa appear to be largely caused by human activities, either inadvertently or intentionally, and an investigation has been launched to determine the cause.

The ministry explained that the extended dry period, which has seen little to no rainfall since mid-October 2022, combined with exceptionally high temperatures and low humidity, has created conditions conducive to the fires.

The Forest Department in Goa has been working closely with the District Collectors, Superintendents of Police, and other relevant departments to address the occurrence of fires as a top priority.

Efforts are being made to contain the fire spots and minimize damage to life, property, and natural resources. All officials involved have been placed on high alert, and the situation is being closely monitored with necessary instructions being issued to responsible officers as needed.

Fires appear to be mostly human-made

Forest department official said, "the fires appear to be mostly human-made, caused by either negligence or deliberate actions. We are conducting an investigation to determine the cause of the fires and will take appropriate action against those responsible."

The Forest officials have expressed surprise at the sudden surge in the number of active fires in March, as there were only 10 minor forest fires recorded in the entirety of 2022.

Visuals of naval helicopters assisting in fire fighting operations against a forest fire in Goa. Credit: Indiannavy

The local population, who rely on herding cattle, have been practising slash and burn techniques to promote new grasses in grazing lands and grasslands.

Similarly, cashew plantation owners and workers have been using the same method to reduce debris and suppress growth. These practices may have contributed to the spread of the fires.

The Forest Department has urged the public to be vigilant and report any incidents of fire immediately. They have also advised against any activities that could lead to the outbreak of fires, such as lighting fires for cooking or burning trash.

The forest fires in Goa serve as a reminder of the importance of responsible environmental stewardship and the need to protect our natural resources.

As the situation continues to be monitored and addressed, it is hoped that the fires will be contained, and the damage to the environment will be minimized.

Goa Forest fire a concern

The forest fires in Goa have caused great concern among environmentalists, who are deeply worried about the damage being done to the natural resources of the region. Forest fires can have devastating impacts on ecosystems, including loss of habitat for wildlife, soil erosion, and decreased water quality.

According to environmentalist Rajendra Kerkar, "The forest fires in Goa are a wake-up call for all of us. We need to be more responsible in our use of natural resources and take steps to prevent such disasters from happening in the future. We cannot afford to lose our precious forests and biodiversity to such disasters."

Visuals of naval helicopters assisting in fire fighting operations against a forest fire in Goa. Credit: Indiannavy

Kerkar also pointed out that slash-and-burn practices, as well as other human activities such as campfires and discarded cigarette butts, can all contribute to the outbreak of forest fires.

He stressed the need for greater public awareness about the importance of protecting the environment and urged the government to take strong action against those responsible for starting fires.

Sandeep Parkar, an environmentalist based in Ponda, has expressed suspicion that there may be ulterior motives behind the forest fires that have been ravaging Goa. He has called for a thorough investigation into the matter.

Parkar believes that some individuals may be intentionally starting fires in order to drive away wildlife and clear the land for development, particularly in areas where land is inexpensive.

He also suspects that some may be trying to prevent the establishment of a tiger reserve in Goa or to weaken the argument against the diversion of the Mhadei river, which is considered a biodiversity hotspot.

Parkar also suggested that the timing of the fires, coinciding with the end of the financial year, could be a factor. He speculated that businesses and landowners may be starting fires deliberately to collect insurance payouts.

Closely monitoring the situation: Goa CM

In a statement, the Chief Minister of Goa, Pramod Sawant, said, "I am closely monitoring the situation and all necessary steps are being taken to tackle the forest fires in the state. The Forest Department is working round-the-clock to contain the fires and protect our precious natural resources."

The Forest Minister of Goa, Nilesh Cabral, also spoke about the situation, saying, "We have deployed a large number of fire-fighters, forest guards, and other personnel to tackle the forest fires. We are also seeking assistance from neighbouring states, and the Indian Air Force has been requested to help with aerial firefighting. We are doing everything possible to bring the situation under control."

Several dry grass fires

February was recorded as the hottest month on record in the region, with temperatures rising up to 5 degrees in recent days and peaking at 38.4 degrees Celsius.

Several dry grass fires have been reported in different areas of Goa, causing losses to farmers during the peak cashew season.

The fires have also been affecting wildlife and causing panic among local residents who call for assistance from the fire department.

According to Ponda Fire Station officer Sushil Morajkar, the thick undergrowth and dry vegetation make it difficult to access these areas, especially at night.

While the cause of the fires is not yet clear, Morajkar suggests that they could be human-made, caused by people throwing lit cigarettes or farmers burning their vegetation.

Fire incidents

S. No. Status of land No. of fire incidences doused No. of active fire incidences
1. Private area 5  
2. Private forest 2  
3. Communidade 1  
4. Government forest 31 7
5. GFDC 3  
  Total 41 7

Over the past few days, a long dry spell and high summer temperatures with low humidity have created an environment that is conducive to fire.

The fires are mostly reported in deciduous patches across the state. The nature of the fire seen and observed is superficial fire.

Surface fires burn loose, dry leaf litter, dry herbaceous vegetation, shrubs, small trees, and saplings on or near the ground surface, primarily by flaming combustion.

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