Forestry department prepares to fight fires with Cessna and drones

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The Karnataka Forest Department is adding a Cessna C-188 aircraft and drones with thermal sensors to its arsenal to deal with forest fires that are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

Aerial firefighting will complement the improved forest fire management system adopted by the department after learning of the Bandipur forest fires in 2019 which destroyed around 12,000 acres due to the poor quality of preventive work by officers in charged.

A senior official said the Cessna, which will be hired and stationed in Mysuru as a pilot project, has a proven track record in fighting the fires.

“One third of Karnataka’s forests have been classified as sensitive (fire-specific),” the official said. “We are preparing a five-year action plan whereby granular division-level data will be used to identify locations prone to repeated fires (‘critical areas’). “

The official said “the plane will provide a major boost” to fighting fires in very sensitive areas. Officials said prolonged droughts and climate change have made forests vulnerable to fires like never before.

An additional concern is the fragmentation of forests by development activities as well as villages. Statistics show that heavy rains in 2018 and 2019 helped reduce forest fires in Karnataka over the next two years.

Nevertheless, the number of incidents has remained on the rise and indicates an increasing trend. In the pilot project, which is estimated to cost Rs 1 crore, the plane will be parked in Mysuru during the fire season between December and March.

In the event of a fire, the aircraft will release fire retardant and act as a quick response measure to check for spread. Vast swathes of deciduous forests in Bandipur, Nagarahole and BR Hills, which include areas that are difficult to access on foot, will benefit from the project, an official said.

In addition, the project includes the purchase of five drones equipped with thermal sensors capable of capturing thermal signatures. This will help monitor fire fighting exercise in inaccessible areas and follow up.

Ground level solutions

When asked, Additional Chief Forestry Officer PC Ray confirmed the proposal, but said the project would take off after securing
government approval. “The pilot project aims to support our continued efforts to strengthen the existing system,” he said.

While the Forest Survey of India provides regular fire alerts, the lag of about an hour and a half between detection and alert has remained a problem.

Officials from the state’s forestry department improvised the system and developed a new app that uses data from two satellites to alert a forest fire within 10 minutes.

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