Uttarakhand forest fires doused: Officials
Officials in Uttarakhand said that the forest fires in the state were completely doused after a brief spell of rain aided the government's mitigation efforts. The administration also claimed it was fully prepared to deal with fresh fires in case they break out anywhere in the state. Officials from the NDRF, SDRF, PAC and the forest department are monitoring the situation on the ground.
The districts of Pauri Garhwal, Nainital, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar and Chamoli are prone to forest fires. Dry weather, high temperatures, and windy conditions cause the fires to spread, making it notably difficult for the government to contain them.
According to official figures, there have been at least 398 incidents of forest fires, damaging approximately 674.58 hectares(ha) in the Garhwal region till 29 April. The 353.70ha of land destroyed in Garhwal, 123.45ha was reserve forest and 230.25ha was civil forest area. In the Bhagirathi circle, there were 118 fire incidents affecting 129.50ha. In the Yamuna circle, 22 fire incidents blazed 57.60ha of forests.
Environmentalists blamed the Uttarakhand timber mafia for the raging fires. The forested land can only be sold by locals once the trees die and the land can be employed for building purposes. Officials said that the "villagers sell the timber and a nexus is formed, the wood alone from these fires will earn thousands of crores to the illicit timber black marketeers."
In the face of rising occurrences of forest fires in Uttarakhand, deposed CM Harish Rawat wrote to the governor K K Paul requesting him to declare Uttarakhand a 'forest fire-ravaged' state. Rawat said that once Uttarakhand is declared as forest fire-ravaged, it will receive adequate financial aid from the Centre and other agencies to deal with the disaster.
Uttarakhand governor KK Paul sanctioned additional funds worth Rs.5 crores to control the Uttarakhand forest fires. The personnel employed was doubled from 3000 to 6000. The governor asked the district administration to take austere measures against those involved in unauthorized felling of trees He also directed District Magistrates to arrange for additional water tankers needed by the respective districts to control the blazing forests.
Since February, the Uttarakhand fires have cost the lives of five people, including 3 women and 1 child in separate incidents, while another 7 have been injured.
The Uttarakhand government summoned 3 companies of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), consisting of 150 personnel's, to douse the forest fires in Uttarakhand. The forest fires in Uttarakhand have consumed almost "1900 hectares of forest land in 13 districts since February." State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) teams were deployed at Nainital and Chamoli to work with the forest department to control the week-old blaze.
With major fires blighting around 1,900 hectares of forests in Uttarakhand, the government has pressed two MI-17 helicopters into service alongside NDRF, SDRF and Army personnel. One MI-17 chopper has been stationed at Bhimtal near Nainital, while the other one is stationed at Pauri. The two choppers are being loaded with water from nearby water bodies to douse the forest fire.
Union Environment Minister Prakash Javedekar stated that the Centre approved Rs.5 crore for firefighting along with deployment of 6,000 personnel to tackle the inferno in Uttarakhand. Officials from the Home Ministry, NDRF and Air Force are guiding the efforts to douse the fires. In addition to the 2 MI-17 choppers, the government also deployed 1 Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter to fight the fires.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the Lok Sabha that the fire that engulfed forest land in Uttarakhand had been brought under control. Speaking to concerned parliamentarians he said "Both the central and the state governments have acted as fast as they could. The situation is totally under control." However, there was no official confirmation on the loss of lives due to the calamity.
In a sign of relief, rains lashed parts of Uttarakhand overnight, supplementing the ongoing fire dousing operations across the state. Light to moderate rains hit the higher reaches of the mountains and swept the plains overnight with Munsyari receiving 11 mm of rains and Dehradun in the plains recording 7 mm. Officials said the rain would reduce the chances of fresh forest fires.