Forest Fire

What are the common causes of forest fires? Lessons from the forest fires of the past

The recent Theni Forest fire in Tamil Nadu which has claimed the lives of 20 people (as on 23rd March 2018) and severely injured many, has brought us to one of the most dreadful challenges – Forest Fire.

Wildfires occur naturally in areas of dry vegetation. Wildfires are called as a bushfire, desert fire or forest fire depending upon the area in which it occurs. Generally, the naturally occurring forest fires are a part of nature’s eco-system. The real problem is it is most often man-made

Worst forest fires now and then

One of the largest forest fires in the history happened in 1825 in Canada, which burnt 3 million acres of forest.

The Thomas fire which occurred in December 2017 in Southern California burned down 2.8 lac acres of forest and is another largest wildfire in the modern history.

Forest fires in India

Bandipur forest fire in 2017, destroyed more than 1000 hectares and also claimed the life of a forest guard.

In 2016, the dreadful Uttarakhand forest fire brought 4000 hectares of forest to ashes and claimed seven lives.

In India, the Himalayan region, dry forests in Andhra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha are most affected by these fires.

What causes forest fires?

Fires can happen anytime, anywhere. Forest fires occur only because of two reasons, it can be either natural or man-made.

causes of forest fire


One of the biggest causes of natural forest fires is lightning. Lightning in places of dry vegetation causes a fire. These fires mostly occur in remote locations away from human presence. In some cases, volcanic activities lead to fires. With the advancement of technology, these types of fires are predicted well in advance and firefighters create a buffer zone to manage the fires. Apart from these, forest fires also occur due to spontaneous combustion of dry vegetation.

Causes of the natural forest fire:

  • Lightning
  • Spontaneous combustion of dry vegetation
  • Volcanic activities


Human carelessness is a common cause of forest fires. Smoking near vegetation and disposing the cigarette into dry vegetation without putting out the burning butt is the most common cause of man-made forest fire. Another leading cause of forest fire is arson or intentional fires. In a recent article published by The Hindu, many of those living in a forest take revenge by torching the natural resources when there is a restriction on construction or movement. Other common causes of man-made forest fires are mosquito coils, candles, it takes hours for these to take catch fire but mostly goes unnoticed until there is a big, uncontrollable fire.

Causes of man-made forest fires

  • Carelessness while Smoking or using mosquito coil or candles or camp-fires
  • Arson or intentional
  • Tribal ritual/tradition

Lessons from Bandipur forest fire

In 2016, the horrifying forest fire in Bandipur burnt down 1000 hectares of forest and also killed a forest guard. The forest fire is the worst enemy of vegetation in this protected forest range. How Bandipur dealt with these forest fire helps us understand how the authorities have taken the incident seriously. The forest department in Bandipur has carefully and thoughtfully designed and implemented a strategy for fireproofing Bandipur. (read the article here)

How to prevent forest fires?

  • Educate people and create awareness about forest fires.
  • Fire detection system and watchtowers and network for communication
  • Patrolling by the forest department
  • Strict approvals and warnings for those using the forest for adventure activities

It is important for the authorities to implement fire safety precautions. Awareness is the best way to prevent fires.


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