Three National Disaster Response Force deployed three teams on Saturday to control forest fires in Uttarakhand that have destroyed nearly 1900 hectares of forest land in 13 districts since February.
“Three teams of NDRF comprising 135 personnel have been deployed to control fire in forests in Uttarakhand. The operation has begun,” NDRF director general OP Singh said. The NDRF teams are equipped with water tankers, floating pumps and medical setup to assist the rescue operation. The teams will be posted at Almora, Pauri and Gauchar in Chamoli districts.
Dry weather, high temperatures, and windy conditions have caused the fires to spread , making it extremely difficult for authorities to contain them in the worst affected districts of Pauri Garhwal, Nainital, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar and Chamoli.
“The NDRF companies, assisted by experts, will launch fire extinguishing and rescue operations in affected areas immediately,” chief secretary Shatrughna Singh had said on Friday.
Inspector general of police Sanjay Gunjyal has been asked to coordinate with the NDRF, the district magistrates concerned and principal conservator of forest to supervise the rescue operations, he said.
Locals have being told to report a fire incident to the concerned district magistrate as soon as they spot it. Pre-fire alerts listing possible fire points over the next seven days in forest areas are being made available on the forest department website.
The wildlife reserves across the state have also come under the fire. So far 198 hectares have been gutted in the Jim Corbett National Park, which is a part of the larger Corbett Tiger Reserve, 70 hectares in Rajaji Tiger Reserve and 60 hectares in Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary.
The Corbett Tiger Reserve and Kalagarh Tiger Reserve – famed for its Royal Bengal tigers – had reported 48 forest fire that destroyed 260.9 hectares of the forest until Wednesday morning, senior forest officials said.
Forest fires were reported in tourist resorts of Bijrani, Sardpuli, Palen, Dhikala, Kalagarh, Maidavan, Jhirna and Sona Nadi of the reserves but there has been no wildlife casualty so far, they said.
Besides ravaging forests, the fire has killed four people, including two women, in Uttarkashi and a woman and her child in Nainital district. Two others were reportedly burnt in separate incidents in Nainital and Chamoli districts.
Authorities had to close National Highway 58 that connects Badrinath for hours on Thursday after the forest fire could not be controlled.
The hill state is notorious for pre-monsoon forest fires which are at times ignited by locals to prepare the slopes for cultivation. The cause is most often man-made but natural phenomena too light up the dry leaves in the parched weather.
The first incident of forest fire was reported as early as in February this year from Pithoragarh district and more than 450 such incidents have been reported till now.
Vijay Jardhari, a green activist who was instrumental in dousing the fire in his Jardhar village in Tehri district with the help of villagers, says forest fire is a major concern.
“Usually, it is the pine trees that are burnt but this year’s inferno has affected trees such as oaks, which remain moist,” he told HT.
Governor KK Paul has asked officials to scale up operations to control the fire. He has ordered deployment of additional staff and allocation of Rs 5 crore to meet out the immediate financial needs required to control the fires.
Deposed chief minister Harish Rawat has written to Paul urging him to declare Uttarakhand a ‘forest fire-ravaged’ state.
Forest department officials said employees are making an effort to douse the fire in the state that has 7.5 lakh hectares of forest cover. They said master control rooms and crew stations have been set up to control fire.
The chief conservator of forest BP Gupta said forests in the state will regenerate once the fire season ends.
“Mostly we have ground fires and therefore, forest are able to regenerate soon,” he claimed.
With HTC inputs from Ghaziabad