In its bid to control forest fires through people support, Pench Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra implemented the “Fire Free Pench Programme” during the 2022 fire season. In this, a competition was organised among the villages for their overall efforts in the prevention of forest fires.
Participation in this required expression of willingness of the villagers through their tharav as a prerequisite.
The programme got an overwhelming response as 37 villages out of a total of 39 villages present in the buffer area of the PTR participated in this programme. Voluntary patrolling squads were made in every village for public awareness, patrolling the sensitive forest areas and helping the forest department in case of any fire incident.
A total of 299 youths were part of such squads and they patrolled 80 times during the span of 3 months of fire season. This programme helped in an overall 67% reduction in the total forest area burnt.
Furthermore, there was a 52% reduction in the number of fire incidents which was 63 in 2021 and came down to 30 during 2022 and only 3 incidences of fire were adjoining to farm and village areas.
Performance of the villages was assessed based upon 10 criteria such as tharav of the villages, number of meetings at village level taking place for execution and coordination, size of the voluntary squads, number of patrols carried out by squad, number of fire incidences, use of the net for the Mahua collection, efforts in arresting the spread of fire from farms, grazing incidence in the forest.
This programme has helped in creating a support base in villages for forest protection and will help in further arresting forest fire incidence. PTR has decided to continue this programme in the 2023 fire season also.