Fire maps for reporting forest fires

Forest fires recorded in South India during 24 hours ended on February 29, 2008.          Source: FIRMS

Forest fires in India
According to Forest Survey of India, about 50 per cent of the forests in India are prone to fires. The fires cause huge losses in terms of timber and biodiversity. Official reports of losses often show low estimates, as they do not take into account the loss of lesser fauna and plants lacking in commercial value. According to one estimate, the annual losses from forest fires in the country would come to about Rs. 440 crores.
Humans cause most of the fires deliberately or by accident. Fires ignited by natural causes such as lighting are rare.
Fire is one of the major reasons for degradation of forests in India. Repeated fires can reduce forests to grasslands. Though several measures such as controlled fires, cutting of fire line etc are used to check fires, they are not fully effective. Besides, the preventive measures themselves cause loss of biodiversity. Considering the availability of human resources, posting of firewatchers appears to be the best option for India.

Information on actual forest fires and those reported by State forest departments do not often match. Journalists often have difficulty in knowing about all the fires occurring in the forests and their consequences when department officials suppress information.

The situation is now changing with advances of technology. Real time information on fires are now available from satellite based systems.  Journalists can obtain these from the open source Web Mapper of MODIS+ Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) at <>

They can also subscribe to daily, weekly, or rapid email alerts. FIRMS will send fire maps and geographic coordinates of the fires under its Global Fire Email Alerts Programme. Area of one's interest can be selected  at the time of requesting the alerts by marking the coordinates on the interactive Web page at

Data that can be used with geographic information systems is available for download. The MODIS Rapid Response System under the NASA-centered international Earth Observing System provides the data.

The satellites usually detect fires covering an area of about 100 square metres. The chances of detection of fire vary depending on a number of factors such as cloud cover. However, the detention rates are usually high.

It has  to be remembered that the maps would show up fires set for agriculture and other purposes also. So, an idea of forest boundaries and their coordinates will be required. The maps can be enabled to show administrative boundaries and boundaries of protected areas. More information on the MODIS system and fire maps is available at

The National Remote Sensing Agency of India also provides fire alerts, fire progression and burnt area mapping  to officials agencies (Indian Forest Fire Response and Assement System). Its products are based in MODIS and Indian Satellites and current images or data are not available on line. Journalists may have to request the information under the Right To Information Act.

+MODIS: Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer