Uttarakhand witnessing unprecedented forest fires
Uttarakhand is witnessing unprecedented forest fires, that too in April when temperatures are yet to touch the maximum range, forest officials said. Higher temperatures generally trigger such fires.
This time around, forest fires started in the winter months in many districts. Most hill districts like Nainital, Almora, Tehri and Pauri have come under the grip of raging forest fires.
Compared to 172 hectares last year, over 1290 hectares of forest land got affected by forest fires this year. The state has reported over 39 new forest fire incidents in the last 48 hours, taking the number of such incidents this year to 983. Also, four human deaths and seven animal fatalities have been reported so far due to these forest fires.
Forest fire activity is generally reported in Uttarakhand from February to June, with a peak in fire incidents in May and June.
According to forest officials, apart from less rain in the winter months, due to the fear of epidemic and the lockdown, movement in the forests was restricted. Due to this, a lot of combustible material, mostly pine needles, got accumulated on the forest floor. These materials are cleared every year during control burning but it was affected over the past year, which is one of the reasons for the spike in forest fires.
Most cases of forest fire incidents in Uttarakhand are man-made and the reduced number of cases is likely due to restricted movement of people in and near forest areas.
Since the formation of the state in 2000, over 44,554 hectares of the forest area has been damaged in forest fires, according to an RTI reply by the Uttarakhand government.
Forest fires affected 172 hectares of jungles last year. The forest area affected due to forest fires in 2019 was 2,981 hectares. The corresponding figure was 4,480 hectares in 2018, 1,228 hectares in 2017, 4,433 hectares in 2016 and 701 hectares in 2015.
Uttarakhand forest department has over 174 watchtowers and 1,437 station crews across the state to keep a tab on forest fires and take measures to check them.
With the number of forest fire incidents rising, experts and Opposition parties have accused the government of "not focusing" to tackle the situation which is "turning catastrophic."
Prominent social activist Anoop Nautiyal, who has been keeping an eye on forest fire incidents, said, "The forest fire situation is turning catastrophic in the state, destroying our forests."
"The senior IFS officers of the state should come together and clear the actual picture of the situation and come up with effective solutions to tackle it," said Nautiyal who also questioned the use of a helicopter for showering flowers in Mahakumbh but not in fighting forest fires.
State Congress president Pritam Singh also questioned the government's "inaction" against forest fires and said, "State's precious forests are burning down in these forest fires but the government is not looking at it. The state forest minister is nowhere to be seen in the picture when he should come forward to save our forest from this disaster which is now affecting people and their properties."
State forest department officials, however, said that the number of forest fire incidents are increasing this year due to "change in climatic conditions."
Maan Singh, chief conservationist of forest (fire and disaster management) said, "Forest fires have increased in the last one week because of strong winds and no rainfall. It is also due to the rise in temperature with less rainfall and snowfall during the winters."
Informing that the department is fully alert and prepared to fight the forest fire situation, Singh said, "We have sent a proposal to the Centre demanding two choppers, one each for Garhwal and Kumaon regions to fight forest fires. Once it is cleared, we will then use them in tackling such incidents."
He informed that about 3,000 forest department staffers and 6,000 forest fire watchers are involved at present to manage the situation.