By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 3 Apr: It is just the beginning of a long summer season but the raging forest fires in Uttarakhand should already be a major reason of concern for the people and the government. With the onset of summer, this year, the state has already lost over 1,200 hectares of forests to fires even as the fires continue unabated. Reports coming in from various parts of Uttarakhand indicate that fires are still raging in many forest ranges across the state. So far not only, 1240 hectares of forests have been lost but at least four human lives have been lost while according to a very conservative estimate, 7 large wild animals have perished in the fires, while many others have been injured in the fires.
It may be recalled that last year only 172 hectares of forests were gutted in the fires during the entire summer season, while this year, the state has already lost over 1,200 hectares of forests to fires. Since the formation of Uttarakhand in the year 2000, the state has already lost 44,000 hectares of forest to wildfires according to an official estimated.
According to the experts, prolonged dry spell is the major reason behind such a huge spread of forest fires this year. Unofficial sources however claim that lack of preparations before the onset of summer season on part of the forest department is also a major reason behind such a wide spread of forest fires. The forest department seemed to be not so well prepared to deal with the forest fires even after Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat had directed the forest department to be fully prepared to deal with forest fires, in a review meeting held about ten days ago.
The fires are blazing so intensely that the high flames can be seen from a distance in various areas in Garhwal as well as Kumaon divisions. There are reports of panic among villagers located near and the around the forests. According to sources, the forest teams have been engaged to extinguish the fires but the fires are out of control in several forest areas.
The areas chiefly affected include Uttarakashi area, Rudraprayag, Tehri, Chamoli and Pauri in Garhwal and Nainital, Almora and Bageshwar in Kumoan division. There is smoke and smog all around the affected forest areas. So far 928 fire incidents have been reported in the state and a property loss of over Rs 38 lakh rupees has been reported. Among those dead included two women in district Almora who had gone to the forest collect wood and fodder for their cattle.
The forest fires continue unabated. Fierce fire in the hills were reported near two villages along the Haldwani-Nainital Highway, in the forests of Tanda range of Haldwani, and near Ukhimath in district Rudraprayag. Meanwhile, the local villagers together extinguished the fire and stopped the fire before it reached the inhabited areas near Ukhimath. According to the villagers, the forests of the valley have been raging for the past several months, but the forest department has not been able to extinguish the fires.
Experts believe incidents of forest fires were likely to increase this upcoming summer due to rise in average temperatures due to a prolonged dry winter spell. Though, Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat had instructed top forest officials to make arrangements for the helicopters to douse the fires but so far the forest department has only started negotiating with the chopper operators.