During my college days, one of our professors arranged an exposure tour of our class to nearby Pine jungles to study forest fire. We were overjoyed as we didn’t have to study that day. Excitedly we all gathered up in our college bus, which within no time landed near our destination, the Pine Jungle. The Professor took us on a small hike through the hill to the stand. That was our very first excursion into the forest and being a forestry student each one of us was filled with enthusiasm and curiosity to observe everything and learn whatever our teacher wanted us to catch upon.
So, through a narrow trail we entered the jungle. The open stand started becoming denser as we hiked deep into it. Our Professor ordered us to observe the surroundings thoroughly. We, especially I, noticed every tiny detail of the locality. The ground had a dense mat of grasses which was burnt till its base; the soil was black too because of the burns. The base of the pine trees were burnt pitilessly, its bark had become sooty black and brittle. We couldn’t even touch them because of the soot that would have made our hands and clothes dirty.
We kept following him and observing things around. He stopped on a slant slope and ordered everyone to gather around him. He then showed us some burnt pine cones; his hands were all black because of the soot from the forest fire. He then started telling us about the reason for which he had brought us to the jungle.
“Wherever you can observe, a dark black colored sooty carpet will be seen. It’s because of forest fire, the fire which was lightened up by some stupid illiterate villager.”
“But why would the villager want to burn the forest?” wondered one of our classmate.
“Because they think that by burning the forest, rain would come.” he answered. “But how will rain come by burning jungle?” asked another fellow.
“That’s why I said illiterate villager. They are not aware and educated. Just because of ancient myths that rain comes after burning jungle, they still believe the same and lit up the dry foliage where the dry foliage and pine needles are carpeted on the ground. Yes there are natural circumstances when the dry foliage gets lit up by lightening or high temperatures but none of the conditions apply here in this part of the country.”
He continued, “But the fire engulfs not only the ground mat but also that everything which comes on its way including seedlings, plants, bushes, trees, nests of birds, homes of animals, even many animals, insects and birds. What you are watching right now is a pyre where thousands of lives were burnt alive.” With his words I felt a pain in my heart like a needle pricked through it.
A picture of the scenario started flashing infront of my eyes. Burning ground and trees, the light from the fire dazzling through the eyes, the heat from that fire melting everything around, the cracking noise of burning woods, bushes and cones, the sooty blackishness left behind; even I could picturise the insects, animals, birds and their nests being burnt along with their eggs or new borns who are crying for help, someone to save them. Whatever I was imagining was distressing and traumatic; the pace of my heartbeat increased and my eyes were drenched with tears ready to fall out. I somehow controlled my emotions and focussed on Professor.
He then took us through the trail and for an hour or two we kept roaming inside that burnt forest left behind after a devastating forest fire. He told us many technical things about forest fires; how they are harmful but beneficial too when lit in controlled manner; how the atmosphere and air is affected by the smoke and ashes; how the forest people deal with the wild fires; and how we can help in catering the fires.
When we came back to our bus, he again interacted with us advising us to be active and attentive for the next time when a forest fire is lit. He wanted us to participate in the process of extinguishing the forest fire around us. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to cater the forest fire but twice we actively got engaged in extinguishing fire in our locality.
Every year during the dry season (dry winter months) thousands of acres of forest area is burnt by the localites in the hope that rain will come. I don’t understand what is the psychology behind this theory, neither do they tell about the reason for doing so.
In our final year of college, we went for village surveys in the nearby areas. There we asked the reasons and views about forest fires. Each one of them discouraged the practice. But this was confusing, if none of them was in favour of lighting the jungles then who was the culprit? Definitely someone amongst them, a wolf in a mask of a sheep.
But what we can do to stop those wolves?
We can educate them, make them aware about what they are doing is wrong and unnecessary. We can inform the forest authority to take action to control the fires in their forest areas for which they are assigned and paid for. And lastly we can ourselves participate in the rescue and extinguishing operations (if we are trained for it).
Awareness is the first step to truncate a problem, so spread the awareness without any hesitation. It’s a moral duty of an educated person to distribute the knowledge as much as they can. It’s just a small contribution that we are making for the society.
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