The Thiruvannamalai hill has a history of fires. People light the fires for many reasons. Traditionally, in summer when the hill dries up, grazers would light a fire on the hill to burn the coarse grass.
When the dry grass dries, new shoots of grass will come up which used to provide food for their animals. This happens all over the country. This burning is actually beneficial to the grass but not for other vegetation. It prevents forests from regenerating, as the fires kill all young saplings.
Another local custom is to light a fire on the hill when someone in the family has a stomach ache.
This is known to cure the ailment.
Often fires happen due to vandalism, when drunks throw cigarette buds on to dry grass and a small unthinking act like this can destroy years of painstaking work.
How to combat a fire
There are only two possible approaches. One is to actively fight fires when they occur and this is very risky and difficult work. The other is create fire lines to prevent fires from spreading. In ARS we do both.
Fire lines are broad strips of land cleared of grass for about 35 feet to prevent a raging fire from spreading. From trial and error we have found that only if we clear 35 feet, we can prevent a fire from crossing over.
These fire lines have to be carefully planned. For instance there has to be a horizontal line behind the tenements at the base of the hill to prevent fires from these houses getting on to the hill. There are parallel lines to this created every few hundred metres. There are also vertical lines to segment the sections in between.
These lines restrict the fire to a much smaller region. Often fire fighting is done starting from a fire line.
These fire lines need to be maintained on an annual basis. After each monsoon, grasses will start growing again. If they are not removed annually, they would cover the fire line again.
The fire lines have been the most important step after planting in growing back the forest.
This is the scientific approach to fire prevention too and is used widely.
How fire lines are created and maintained
The fire lines are created manually by a group of people who pull out from the root every single vegetation which will help the fire spread. This is very slow painstaking work and often done in the driest months. These people have to cover the whole mountain doing this, often working on steep slopes and regions very difficult to access.
How you can support
You can contribute towards maintaining fire lines. On an average it costs us about Rs.25/- per metre in current rates. You can donate money towards maintaining fire lines for 100 metres, or kilometre or any distance that you wish. You can earmark your donation saying that it is for fire line maintenance and we will ensure that it is used for that.