Uttarakhand: 8 fresh forest fires in 24 hours, IAF assists in firefighting for 2nd day

Dehradun, Apr 28 (PTI) The firefighting operation in Uttarakhand’s forests with the help of an Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter continued for the second day on Sunday with the blaze being brought under control in several areas, officials said.

The state reported eight fresh forest fires in the last 24 hours, gutting 11.75 hectares, compared to the 23 such incidents damaging 34.175 hectares from Friday evening to Saturday evening, the forest department said in its daily bulletin.

Since November 1, 2023, Uttarakhand has so far recorded 606 forest fires in which 735.815 hectares of forest land were gutted, the bulletin said.

No major fire broke out in the forests over the past 24 hours, Kumaon’s Chief Conservator of Forest Prasanna Kumar Patro said.

In the Kumaon region, fires are raging at two to three places in Nainital district and at one place each in Champawat, Almora, Pithoragarh and Bageshwar, Patro said.

The fire in the forests of Ladiyakata and Pines area on Nainital-Bhowali road have been extinguished with the help of the IAF helicopter that was deployed on Saturday, he said.

After the forest fire in Nainital reached dangerously close to the High Court Colony and the Air Force base containing sensitive equipment on Friday, an IAF helicopter was brought in to help quell the flames.

The forest blaze in Nainital and adjoining areas is gradually being brought under control after the deployment of the IAF helicopter on Saturday morning, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said after reviewing the situation in the Kumaon region on Saturday night.

Patro said efforts are on to extinguish the flames at other places and they will be brought under control soon.

He attributed the recent spike in forest fire incidents in Kumaon to increased dryness due to heat wave in the lower areas of Champawat and Nainital districts of Uttarakhand bordering Nepal.

Meanwhile, efforts were stepped up to extinguish ongoing forest fires and prevent fresh incidents in the worst-affected areas of Nainital, Haldwani and Ramnagar forest divisions, forest officials said.

The flames have already been doused in many areas, including Marora and Khanana civil areas in Maniknath range of the Narendranagar forest division, they said.

Apart from the IAF helicopter and Army personnel, Prantiya Rakshak Dal volunteers and homeguard personnel have also been roped in to help in the firefighting operations, Kumaon Commissioner Deepak Rawat said.

Additional government vehicles, two each for the three forest divisions, have been provided to rush firefighting teams to the affected areas, he added.

Help from locals with the involvement of forest panchayat officials is also being taken as they are the first responders to forest fires, Rawat said.

Forest department personnel are going from village to village in the hills to raise awareness about forest fires, Garhwal DFO Anirudh Swapnil told reporters in Pauri.

Loudspeakers are being used to spread the messages. People are being asked to report any forest blaze immediately to the authorities and not to burn garbage in the open or carelessly throw burning cigarette butts or bidis in the forest areas, Swapnil said.

People are also being asked to report to the authorities if they catch someone setting a fire in the forests, he said, adding that any person reporting such a violation will be rewarded by the forest department.

Legal action under the Forest Act 1927 will be taken against anyone caught setting fire to the jungles, he added.

Burning forests in order to obtain fresh grass for their cattle is a widely prevalent practice in the hills of Uttarakhand.

The leaves of forest department officials have been cancelled until the fire situation is completely brought under control.

Leave applications of forest department personnel will be considered only in case of medical emergencies, Dhami said.

According to the Indian Air Force, a Mi-17 V5 helicopter has been deployed in Nainital and surrounding areas to douse the flames. It collects water from the Bhimtal lake in a Bambi bucket, which has a capacity of 5,000 litres, and pours it over the burning forests.

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