For the last couple of days, fires have been raging in the forests of Nainital. It has also spread to neighbouring districts – Bageshwar, Almora, Tehri Garhwal, Champawat, and Pithoragarh. Over 30 acres of forests have been destroyed.

On 28 April 2024, at least 42 large forest fires were reported in Uttarakhand. Apart from the hill state, 26 forest fire incidents were reported in Odisha, 12 in Jharkhand, and seven in Chhattisgarh.

While the recent forest fires have made headlines, IFS officer Dr Abdul Qayum had long back built an award-winning system to prevent forest fires in Arunachal Pradesh.

With his ‘eForestFire-Himalayan Forest Fire Prediction’, he utilises Forest Survey of India (FSI) data and maps it on GIS platform to analyse forest fire events and their distribution to generate fire hotspots at the village level.

There are four segments to this system. Firstly, it mapped eight factors linked to fires such as forest type, density, altitude, slope, rainfall data, temperature, poverty, and population density.

In view of these factors, eight maps were generated. These maps were integrated, giving certain weight to each factor. This generated what the officer calls ‘Hotspot 1’.

The team also obtained decadal data of forest fires in the state from the FSI, which generated ‘Hotspot 2’.

Secondly, the FSI data and the actual map produced by citing direct and indirect factors are compared. It predicts forest fires that are likely to happen and where actual fire points are reported.

Thirdly, the team merges these two hotspots to improve the model. Subsequently, they developed a mobile app called eForestFire, which facilitates citizen-centric inputs from the public.

By engaging people, inputs are taken to get the exact location of the fire. The app is specifically designed to work in offline mode considering the internet connectivity issues in the hill state.

This system can predict forest fires. This means the concerned forest officers have information of their villages that are susceptible to forest fires.

Using this information, they can strategically establish fire lines that are used to prevent fire breaking into the forest from one patch to another using a constructed surface like a road or a water body.

Officials can also better allocate watch and ward duties unlike earlier when it was randomly done. It helps them allocate their limited resources strategically and efficiently.

In 2020, reported forest fire incidences were around 31 percent less in comparison to the period before the start of the initiative.