In the last few years, forest fires have been making news. Summers in Canada, Australia and several parts of Europe have seen a spate of fires consuming huge swathes of forestland. A 2023 study by researchers at the University of Maryland found 3 million more hectares of tree cover loss per year due to fires compared to 2001.
Climate change and global warming have been identified as the main drivers. Extreme and more frequent heat waves dry out the landscape causing a small spark to trigger a huge fire. Such conflagration leads to higher emissions from burning forests further exacerbating climate change. It is a vicious cycle.
Approximately 70 per cent of forest fires have occurred in the upper northern hemisphere(boreal regions). Such fires are a natural occurrence, but the tree cover loss has increased annually by 1,10,000 hectares in the last two decades and environmentalists have sounded a red alert since the emissions into the atmosphere will have a global impact on climate.
Forests in the boreal region store 30-40 per cent terrestrial carbon which is stored in the soil and protected by snow and frost from occasional natural fires. But global warming has made soil carbon susceptible to burning. Thus, boreal forests are slowly turning from a carbon sink into a source for carbon emissions.
Indian forests are also becoming increasingly vulnerable to fires. According to the State of Forests Report, 2021, about 22 per cent area of forest cover in India falls under the highly and extremely fire-prone category. This figure is likely to go up unless climate change and global warming is not arrested.