Four people were found starting fires in Pauri Garhwal and have been arrested, environment minister Prakash Javadekar said on Monday, adding that the number of fire cases had come down from 1,200 to 60 in of Uttarakhand.
The four people will be investigated and strict action will be taken, Javadekar said. “Not a single inch of forest land will be allowed to be encroached or diverted by anybody,” he said.
Pauri Garhwal is one of the worst-affected districts in fires that have affected more than 2,300 hectares of forest land in the state since February.
“Fires have been controlled in Uttarakhand. The more than 1,200 fires cases have come down to just 60 today and they will be doused today… All this was possible because of more than 6,000 people working on the ground,” the minister told reporters on Monday.
Javadekar said all states that have thick forest cover have been alerted to be careful about such fire incidents. Massive forest fires sweeping across the state have killed at least seven people in recent weeks.
After state firefighters were unable for months to put the fires out, the government sent Indian Air Force helicopters over the weekend to drop water on the blazes covering nearly 23 square kilometres of pine forests.
There were dozens of fires burning on Monday, spreading unpredictably and threatening two major tiger reserves - Corbett National Park and Rajaji National Park - according to state forest officer Bhanu Prasad Gupta.
Officials said the fires had been exacerbated by the year’s dry weather, after two consecutive years of poor monsoon rains.
Since February, the blazes have spread to 13 districts destroying vast swaths of forest land across Uttarakhand, Gupta said.
Dense smoke was hampering efforts to put out the flames, he said.