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Living with fire and smoke: Villagers on the edge in Uttarakhand hills

india Updated: May 02, 2016 12:53 IST
Arvind Moudgil
Arvind Moudgil
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

A fire in Buakhal in Pauri.(Arvind Moudgil /HT Photo)

Residents of Buakhal, about 155km from Uttarakhand capital Dehradun, had a sleepless night on Saturday, staring at the advancing flames dancing in the dark.

They watched in horror as a strong gust of wind brought the fire uphill - at their doorsteps. Panicked, they rushed out with water buckets to dampen the surroundings.

Officials of the forest and fire departments and a disaster response team doused the blaze. By then, the fire had consumed the cattle fodder collected from jungles.

Read: Uttarakhand blaze: Centre begins trial runs for pre-fire alert system

“There is hardly any grass left in the nearby jungles or at our homes. God knows what will happen to our animals…the government should supply fodder,” Neelu Rawat, a resident, said.

Buakhal is in Pauri Garhwal, one of the worst-hit districts in the fires that have killed four people and affected more than 2,300 hectares of forest land in Uttarakhand since February.

Though forest fires are a natural phenomenon in summer in the hill state, this time they have occurred on a bigger scale. Government data says all 13 districts have been affected.

Indian Air Force choppers have been pressed into action in Kumaon and Garhwal to spray water on the flames. On Sunday morning, a helicopter could not take off due to low visibility.

Smoke covers the jungles of Mandakhal. (Arvind Moudgil /HT Photo)

Read: To douse flames, Mi-17 choppers spray water over Uttarakhand forests

Three teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are in action, with the central government assuring the state of all possible assistance.

Dhirender Bhandari of Nisni village in Pauri said villagers have volunteered to go into the forests to fight the flames.

With fresh fires being reported frequently, NDRF teams have a tough task at hand. The smoke cover is causing difficulty in breathing and affecting visibility.

The forest department has gone all out to control the spread but “the thick smoke is posing problems”, said Ramesh Chandra, divisional forest official of the Garhwal division.

A blaze in Mandakhal near Pauri. (Arvind Moudgil /HT Photo)

Vijay Jardhari, who controlled a blaze near his village in Tehri with 200-odd villagers last week, said making fire lines before the pre-monsoon showers appeared to be a must in Uttarakhand.

Forest teams clear the perimeter of forests and light that area in a practice to fight fire with fire. The move ensures forest fires don’t cross the perimeter.

“Since British era, there had been a trend of making fire lines outside forests. That has not been done regularly of late. As a result, this uncontrolled fire is raging,” he said.

Fire rages in a forest of Gorkhyakhal near Pauri. (Arvind Moudgil /HT Photo)

Read: Pics: Uttarakhand forests go up in flames, rescuers jump into action

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