With the onset of winter, forest officials are on high alert for majority of severe forest fires occur during the season despite numerous efforts by the concerned agencies.
Records maintained by the forest fire management section (FFMS) under the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) show that thousands of acres of forests are lost to fire every year, threatening wildlife habitats and biodiversity, resulting in loss of revenue in millions of Ngultrums.
Most forest fires in Bhutan start from November till May every year, with February and March considered as the fire prone season in eastern Bhutan. The risk factors in the eastern and western regions are very high compared to southern regions because of the total annual rainfall that is less than 1000mm in the highlands.
The head of FFMS, Tandin Dorji said strenuous effort and resources are invested to prevent the forest fires, but it cannot be completely prevented due to numerous factors.
He added that remote sensing and GIS based fire detection and monitoring technology would be developed and installed in the DoFPS head quarters, and information obtained through the technology would be communicated to all the territorial dzongkhag forest officers, park managers, and community leaders.
New rules on forest fires has been formulated and implemented by the department since early this year. From just a small section under the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules, an independent rule on forest fire has been put in place. This is expected to contribute to a huge extent in bringing down fire accidents.
The rule entails close association and support of school nature clubs in prevention of forest fires through awareness programs. If a fire outbreak occurs, senior students will be deployed for suppression.
School administrations will also sensitize the students on prevention of forest fires during the onset of every fire season. Such initiatives are expected to bring down fire incidences originating from the carelessness caused by children.
When it comes to community participation, if the fire is caused by a child, the parents are liable to take full responsibility. They will not only bear the expenditures incurred in fire suppression, but will also pay the compensation of commercial royalty calculated based on the girth class of the trees damaged. For these, the gewog administration within their jurisdiction will render full support.
The forest fire volunteer system is also another critical initiative which the department has taken as part of an effort to keep forest fires at bay. The volunteer system has close to a thousand members enrolled with the department. The volunteers are actively engaged in pre and post- forest fires activities.
Volunteers, who come from all section of the society, a majority of Desuups and civil servants make significant contributions in combating forest fires. They receive motivational incentives such as jackets, boots and other fire fighting gears.
DoFPS also urges all civil servants working in various dzongkhags to register as a forest fire fighting volunteer. Many have joined recently and the registered members will be equipped with safety gears and trained on forest fire fighting techniques.
The FFMS has also conducted numerous hands-on training to fire volunteers, Desuups and foresters, especially on handling firefighting equipment.
According to Tandin Dorji, about 60% of forest fires are caused while burning agricultural debris and lemon grass in the chirpine forest. While another 20 % are caused by children playing with ignition materials, roadside workers, picnickers and camp fires, 15 % of forest fires is caused accidently and only 5% by unknown causes.
According to the statistics maintained by the FFMS, 239 cases of forest fires outbreak has been reported across the country within a span of six years, destroying unabatedly over more than 44, 934 acres of forests.
74 cases of fire in the year 2008-2009 destroyed more than 4,211.3 acres while another 48 forest fires outbreak in 2009-2010 destroyed more 9,314.31 acres. The 44 incidences of forest fire in 2010-2011 razed 10, 897.199 acres of forest. In 2011-2012, another 39 cases were reported which burned down 10,903.73 acres and from 2012-2013 34, 12,175.2 acres were reported to be damaged by 30 cases of forest fires.