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38,100 Hectares Of Tree Cover Lost To Forest Fires

By Ashli Varghese
May 13, 2024 09:53 IST
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Between April 25 and May 2, India received 38,885 fire alerts.

IMAGE: A fire breaks out in the forests of Garhwal and Kumaon. Photograph: ANI Photo

The devastating forest fires in Uttarakhand, captured by satellite images, have brought widespread attention to the extensive destruction they have caused.

This attention comes alongside ongoing litigation around managing forest fires.

In India, the peak fire season typically begins in late February and spans about 12 weeks. Every year, it leaves behind a trail of devastation.

Since 2001, India has witnessed the loss of 38,100 hectares of tree cover to forest fires.

The highest loss of tree cover was recorded in 2008, when overall 3 million hectares were gone as a result of forest fires, deforestation and other drivers of loss. 

Although the loss due to forest fires began to decline afterward, hitting a low of 600 hectares in 2013, recent data indicates a resurgence.

In 2023, 2,130 hectares were lost, according to Global Forest Watch data (chart 1).

Uttarakhand alone had reported over eight new forest fires by the last week of April, consuming 11.75 hectares of tree cover.

From 2001 to 2023, Odisha and Arunachal Pradesh were the hardest-hit states, losing over 200 hectares of tree cover each due to fires (chart 2).

Between May 1, 2023, and April 29, 2024, a staggering 12,689 high-confidence Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) fire alerts were reported in India, with 8,967 alerts recorded this year alone until April 29, according to Global Forest Watch. (Developed by Nasa, VIIRS are data products placed on two satellites. They observe the entire Earth's surface twice daily.)

Between 2012 and 2023, the peak year for fire alerts was 2021, with 23,388 alerts issued (Chart 3).

Over the past four weeks, Karnataka has received maximum fire alerts (80), accounting for 2.4 per cent of all alerts in India, a significantly higher number than historical counts since 2012.

Between April 25 and May 2 this year, India received 38,885 high-confidence VIIRS fire alerts, the forest monitoring watch reported.

Worldwide, in the last four weeks, Ecuador accounted for 0.27 per cent of all fire alerts -- the highest.

Globally, nearly 28 per cent of tree cover lost between 2001 and 2023 was because of forest fires, with Russia and Canada reporting the highest rates of loss.

In 2023, Canada alone witnessed the destruction of 7.76 million hectares of tree cover due to fire, alongside other heavily affected countries such as Russia, Brazil, Bolivia, the United States, and Australia.

Meanwhile, 2023 stands out as the year with the planet losing the highest tree cover from fires, totalling 11.9 million hectares -- an alarming 42 per cent of all tree cover loss recorded that year (chart 4).

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

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Ashli Varghese
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