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Uttarakhand blaze kills two more, rain takes over choppers’ role

dehradun Updated: May 05, 2016 14:30 IST
Nihi Sharma
Nihi Sharma
Hindustan Times
Forest fire

Forest fire in Pauri district on Tuesday night. Chief secretary says the government will probe whether funds were used to work on fire lines in severely affected districts.(HT Photo)

Two people succumbed to injuries from the raging forest fires in Uttarakhand’s Nainital district, authorities said on Wednesday, amid continuing blazes that have ravaged thousands of hectares of lush Himalayan ecosystem.

The forest fires have so far killed nine people across the state and injured 16.

The forest department said a total of 3,720 hectares of forest land has burnt to ashes till date. Due to light showers in some parts of Uttarakhand, no helicopter was engaged in sprinkling water on blazes.

Accepting low preparedness to combat forest fires, chief secretary Shatrughan Singh said, “We were prepared for a normal fire season. Perhaps we should have anticipated that this season would be tough. However, we have managed to control the blaze so far.”

He said the maintenance of fire lines – clearing debris such as dry leaves that help a fire spread – was a cause for concern. He said that the government will probe whether funds were used to work on fire lines in severely affected districts or not.

Singh said assessment of actual forest loss in fire will take time but the forest department pegged estimated revenue loss at Rs 38.60 lakh.

However, he said he will send a memorandum to the Centre, seeking funds to replenish the burnt forest area.

Read: Uttarakhand govt pays Rs 85 for a litre of water dropped

“The preparation for the Char Dham yatra slated to start from May 9 is culminating. The forest fires have been controlled and there’s no danger involved,” Singh said.

According to government figures, 85-year-old Nandi Devi – a resident of Malla Okhlakanda of Dhari in Nainital — was injured last Thursday while trying to douse a forest fire. She died on May 2.

Jay Singh, resident of the same village, died on April 28, officials said. Rajendra Sain of Bohrakot also died on April 28 while extinguishing a blaze. Nainital has reported three deaths so far due to wildfires.

Besides, two casualties were reported in Pithoragarh, two in Uttarkashi and one each in Bageshwar and Chamoli.

“We are not considering casualties of two women in Uttarkashi that happened on February 2, much before the fire season (February 15 - June 15) started. So we can say that the number of casualties is 7+2 as of now,” Singh said.

In the last week of April, the government released Rs 1 crore and another Rs 5 crore under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) to forest divisions for increasing the number of fire fighters in their respective areas.

Read: Uttarakhand disaster shows India is ill-prepared for forest fires

48 cases registered

Forty-eight cases were registered against locals for allegedly putting fire in Uttarakhand forest fires, additional principal secretary forest S Ramaswamy said on Wednesday.

Through social media another incident came to light in Pithoragarh. The officers are trying to track the culprit. “Through social networking website we came to know about the incident and the matter is under investigation,” Ramaswamy said.