Forest fire destroys hundreds of chilgoza trees in Kinnaur district

Published on Jun 15, 2022 04:03 PM IST
Fire raging in forest spread over 2,000 bighas adjoining Jangi and Akpa villages in Himachal Pradesh’s high-altitude area since June 12 finally brought under control
The forest fire that broke out near Jangi village in the high-altitude Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh on June 12. (HT Photo)
The forest fire that broke out near Jangi village in the high-altitude Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh on June 12. (HT Photo)

The forest fire raging in the high-altitude tribal Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh since June 12 has been brought under control but not before it destroyed hundreds of rare chilgoza pine, Juniper and coniferous trees spread over 2,000 bighas.

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“The fire affected 2,000 bighas. The exact number of trees affected will be known after a few days as the fire has been controlled completely only on Wednesday. People from the administration, fire services, police, army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, JSW Group and Central Industrial Security Force were deployed to help the local population of the adjoining Jangi and Akpa villages,” said Kinnaur deputy commissioner Abid Hussain Sadiq.

Ecosystem bears the brunt

The fire in the forest adjoining Jangi and Akpa villages has left the ecosystem at an elevation of 2,000 to 3,350 metres threatened. Home to the Himalayan tahr the black bear, these forests include deodar and blue pine trees, valued for their timber, and are significant ecologically and economically. The chilgoza pine nuts, consumed locally and sold abroad, are a source of livelihood for residents of Jangi village. The chilgoza pine, a slow-growing tree with an average life of 150-200 years, is the only conifer that bears nutritious edible nuts.

“The fire burnt down thousands of native chilgoza and juniper trees. It took almost five days to bring the situation under control,” said Jiya Lal Negi, a resident of Jangi village. The fire has raised concerns for environmentalists. “There is complete apathy and abdication of government accountability and responsibility given the widespread occurrence of forest fires in Himachal Pradesh since this March. Casually, they blame it on the hot and dry weather when most such fires are set late in the evening or at night, obviously by humans, across all weather conditions,” Rajeshwar Negi, the national convener of Nature Watch India. Negi has an apple orchard just opposite the chilgoza pine forest in Jangi.

“Ironically tree plantation drives are held with much fanfare and people are penalised for cutting a tree, yet lakhs of saplings, trees and wildlife are allowed to be wantonly destroyed every year. In the high-altitude tribal areas of Kinnaur that have pastures rich with herbs and commercially valuable chilgoza forests, forest fires occur every summer,” Rajeshwar Negi said, expressing concern.

Record number of forest fires

With an unprecedented heat wave sweeping North India, Himachal Pradesh has witnessed record incidents of forest fires this year. An average of 31 incidents of forest fire are being reported daily in the state. Since April 2, as many as 340 forest fires have been reported, double the number last year and the highest in a decade.

Forests in 19,310 hectares have been affected, causing a loss of more than 53 crore. Trees have been damaged in 15,365.37 hectares area, while plantation has been damaged in 3,810.81 hectares.

Last year, 1,223 fire incidents were reported. The highest number of 549 forest fires has been reported in the Dharamsala forest range this season. Similarly, the forests of Chamba, Shimla and Mandi circles are also reporting more fires this time.

Himachal Pradesh has a total of 2,026 forest beats. Of them, 339 forest beats are very sensitive, 667 are sensitive and 1,020 are less prone to forest fires. In Bilaspur, 27 beats are sensitive followed by Chamba with 18, Dharamshala 37, Kullu 12, Mandi 82, Rampur 35, Nahan 32, Shimla 49 and nine beats in the Great Himalayan National Park.

The natural incidents of fire are not frequent. Most of the incidents are caused by people setting fire unintentionally and intentionally. Many times, villagers set forests on fire for good growth of fodder. Sometimes, the fire is caused by human negligence, such as throwing a burning cigarette butt in the forest.

Box

YEAR FOREST FIRE INCIDENTS

2022 2,340

2021 1,223

2020 1,027

2019 1,445

2018 1,164

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Gaurav Bisht heads Hindustan Times’ Himachal bureau. He covers politics in the hill state and other issues concerning the masses.

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