Friday, 28 January 2011

Winter and Forest Fires.

Among the notable things about fire is that it also requires oxygen to burn – exactly like its enemy, life.  Thereby are life and flames so often compared.  ~Otto Weininger

Earth, water, fire and air are the four natural elements which form the pristine earth, yet each of these elements brings lots of destruction to the mother earth. There are instances where thousands of lives lost due to the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes elsewhere in the world as well as in our own country. Tsunami, cyclone aila, and floods etc.., have made thousands homeless and starve. The cyclones and hurricanes blow away thousands of hamlets and towns yearly and fire is not an exception. Thus all such natural forces without which the earth would have formed, once again become the forces which lead to the devastation of the beautiful earth itself. 

‘Fire is a good servant but a bad master.’ This is an age-old adage which has been passed down from generations. Life would be dreary without a light of fire, so cold without its heat during the extreme winters and what not, we cannot have our meals raw as the nature bequeaths. This is how the fire serves us at home. But the misuse of fire might raze down the entire house within a fraction of hours, creating lots of devastation, unimaginable, thus governing the entire elements by its fierce, ferocious and deadly flames. The fateful night of 26/11/2010 when the fire razed the entire Chamkahr Town is an example to be cited.
Forest fire in Thimphu. source: kuensel

Winter is month of dryness, of parchedness, and aridness. That’s why we call it season of emptiness. But it is in this particular season that most of our nations great asset, the forests get engulfed by the fierce flames of fire. Yearly, thousands of acres of forest land are gutted down by fire in Bhutan, which results in enormous economic losses because of destroyed timber, burnt housing, high costs of fire suppression, damage to environmental, recreational and amenity values and loss of life and livelihoods. Be it caused due to negligence of the common people by not putting off the flames after burning the farm debris, be it caused by the innocent children’s playing with the fire crackers and match sticks, be it due to mere incidents of electric short circuit, be it due to recklessness and carelessness of those who throw the burning cigarette bud after smoking, or be it caused intentionally by the local people to gain the minor benefit of self interest like grazing of livestock, but the ultimate result is the loss of the age-old preserved pristine forest resource of our country.

Fire once outbreak, it’s very difficult to contain in our country, mainly because Bhutan being a mountainous country with forests covering the steep terrains. Boulders begin sliding down, drilling fear into the team of firefighters due to loosened forest soil. The fallen leaves are very dry, fissured barks of the tree catch fire in ease, and the dry undergrowth becomes the best fuel. Moreover, whenever the fire starts, it is fanned by strong winds, thus spreading over a vast area and thereby charring the beauteous nature into ashes within a short span of time. Besides, in winter the water is a scarce resource, which we consider fires enemy, so containment become a big problem. 
Fire Triangle.

Fire by nature is a chemical reaction which involves three components, fuel, heat (temperature), and oxygen (air). To have a fire in any combustible substance, each one of these components must be present to help each other. So in order to prevent or control the fire, we will have to break the link between any of these three components.  Making fire lines in the forest can break such links and stop a fire from spreading to adjacent forest but our country being mountainous, it’s seldom achievable. So the best remedy is to prevent it from the beginning, for prevention is better than cure.

Every year, countless acres of forests are burned because of human carelessness. The winter of 2010 alone saw more than 40,000 acres of forest area gutted by fire in Bhutan. It would also be crucial if instead of Forest official’s spending money and resources in investigating the cause of fire, if they spent it on creating awareness to the general public before the onset of fire outbreak season.
Although fire has been the primary agent of forest degradation, as a natural process it serves an important function in maintaining the health of certain ecosystems. The conventional view of fire as a destructive agent requiring immediate suppression has given way to the view that fire can and should be used to meet land management goals under given ecological conditions. However it has limited application in our country as of now.

Lets preserve our forest and sustain it for our future generations as well, as this will be one of the means of achieving Gross National Happiness.

“Prevention is the most important strategy and it is everyone’s responsibility,

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