A New Challenge: Forest Fires in Pakistan. According to reports, scores of lives have been lost, and significant economic damages have ensued. More than 100,000 native chilgoza trees were destroyed by fires in the Koh-e-Sulaiman Range last month; annual earnings from these trees were approximately PKR 3 billion. Moreover, fires have broken out in the Margalla Hills near Islamabad and the Tirah Valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where thousands of trees have been destroyed, and some lives have been lost.
These fires are frequently reported in many regions of Pakistan. Generally, only high-intensity fires are documented, while others go unreported. Fires have terrible effects in the form of economic losses, tree devastation, and air pollution that causes environmental problems. In addition, these fires create a rise in temperature that ultimately poses a grave risk to human life. Before a suitable reaction to this danger, it is crucial to determine the underlying causes behind the incidence of these fires.
What is the cause of forest fires?
It has been determined that climate change is one of the most significant causes of forest fires. Because climate change affects civilization and all living things in the same way and to the same extent, the likelihood of something terrible occurring, particularly bushfires, is consistently high. According to Senator Sherry Rehman, Federal Minister for Climate Change, a prolonged heat wave across the country has exacerbated forest fires, and the amount and frequency of forest fires this year are alarming and related to climate stress. In addition, there are different natural causes for the outbreak of fires in Pakistan and worldwide.
Lightning is another natural cause of such flames. Lightning can provide the spark that eventually ignites fires. Nevertheless, multiple human factors also contribute to these fires.
It has been claimed that farmers attempting to clear their fields for approaching crop production have ignited fires that grew out of control in certain instances. Conditions that are drier aid in igniting these tiny fires into large ones. Bushfires and forest fires are also caused by campers, irresponsible smokers, and material that has been set ablaze.
Forest Fires and Climate Change
These fires are attributed to natural causes, such as climate change, but they are also caused by human activity. Statistics indicate that roughly fifty percent of forest fires are caused by human activity. In Pakistan, it has been noted that the relevant departments cannot extinguish these fires promptly; hence, the fires have caused severe damage to human lives and property. Therefore, it is necessary to utilize balanced techniques that account for these fires’ natural and human causes and develop practical alternatives.
These fires must be investigated thoroughly to determine their exact causes and plan accordingly. Unfortunately, recent forest fires have made it evident that Pakistani institutions are unprepared to deal with such catastrophes. They lack the contemporary equipment, technology, and trained personnel to predict or extinguish such fires.
The human handling of forest fires was a detriment, and there should also be advanced facilities. The officials struggled to contain the fires on time. Unfortunately, the forest department has not devised a plan to combat the threat of forest fires, which annually damage thousands of trees. Every year, hundreds of hectares of valuable woods are destroyed by forest fires. Pakistan requires a comprehensive plan and coordinated measures to extinguish or contain these flames.
Responding to Forest Fires
The National Disaster Management Authority, provincial disaster management authorities, and other departments must respond to such occurrences. As expected, the responses from these concerned agencies have been slow. Therefore, the government has proposed the immediate elevation of all forest fire management to the district level due to numerous forest fires, inadequate responses from relevant agencies, and the perception of it as a local issue. The issue of forest fires must be addressed at the local level, and local institutions must be equipped with modern equipment and up-to-date information to act effectively in a timely manner.
The government has also proposed erecting lookout towers during fire season so that any fire location can be instantly identified and a prompt reaction can be undertaken. In addition, it has advocated the creation of fire ditches, the establishment of fire control rooms in all forest fire zones throughout all provinces, and the participation of local communities. In most instances, local communities are left to their own devices, which are insufficient and, in some instances, detrimental. However, local populations must be trained to generate effective responses to forest fires.
How can we prevent this?
Fires can break out anywhere, particularly in remote, steep, and hilly regions that lack firefighting facilities. When the normal firefighting personnel reach these places and begin their operations, it has been observed that the fires have reached an unmanageable stage and have devastated the forests and forestland. Local populations can be trained on a vulnerable basis to respond at the onset of a fire outbreak, and it is possible to contain flames at the onset of their spread. Engagement of the local community is essential for addressing the issues posed by forest fires.
Local communities must be educated on the causes, particularly human elements, of these fires so that they know that a tiny error can result in widespread disaster. There is also a need to establish a reporting mechanism at the grassroots level via which anyone can promptly report any incident to local authorities. There should be a communication system at tourist destinations so that tourists and visitors are fully informed about forest fires.
When tourists blow fire for culinary reasons in mountainous and tourist locations, they must extinguish all fire flames properly since these small flame particles might reduce a mountain to ash. Therefore, the provincial administration may establish a strategy for placing qualified firefighters in the most flammable and risky tourist areas.
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Forest fires are a major hazard that requires the government’s careful attention to maintain vital forests and animals. Every year, these forest fires devastate our forests, destroying trees and killing several kinds of birds and small animals. Developing proactive and long-term responses to forest fires as an imminent hazard is exceptionally challenging. The government should give up-to-date local firefighting equipment in all districts with such huge forests.