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NEW DELHI: Frequent fires are razing forests in India’s Uttarakhand state in the north and Odisha in the east amid high temperatures and long dry spells, and the blazes have been worsened by people burning the forest to collect a flower used to brew alcohol.

Data from the state-run Forest Survey of India shows that as of 2021, 54.4 percent of forests in India experienced occasional fires, most of them due to man-made factors.

“Agriculture stubble burning, misconceptions and burning of shrubs to shoo away wildlife are major reasons behind the forest fires,” Swapnil Aniruddh, a forest official in Uttarakhand, told Reuters.

After a brief respite during the previous season from November to April, forest fires have picked up again this year, with 653 incidents in Uttarakhand alone, government data shows.

Odisha’s fires have been exacerbated by people setting parts of the forest ablaze to collect Mahua flowers, which are highly sought after as they are used to brew a popular liquor.

During the current season, 10,163 fire points in Uttarakhand have been detected using the government’s imaging radiometer.

Overall, loss of significant forest cover is a big worry for India as it tries to dramatically reduce its climate-changing emissions.

Among the organizations helping to curb the fires is the Indian Air Force, which has used the aerial firefighting ‘Bambi Bucket’ technique of collecting water from a nearby lake to spray over the region.

The situation may get worse, with India’s weather department predicting more heat-wave days than normal between April and June this year, along with a longer dry spell for Uttarakhand.

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