Forest fires in Uttarakhand this time are believed to be among the fiercest in the last 17 years, second worse to the blazes in 2016. Forest resources to the tune of INR 54 lakh have been set this year
Heart-wrenching visuals of humans and animals caught in forest fires in the hill States of north India get occasional media focus but for the locales themselves, it’s not a new phenomenon. Rampant forest fires in the Himalayan region have become a recurring theme. The scars of the 2016 Uttarakhand fires that besides burning down 8,600 acres of forest land caused several casualties are back to haunt parts of the State as forest fires continue unabated. In 2016, it became a daunting task for fire-fighters as the fires were left uncontrolled when they started and they therefore spread into ever more inaccessible terrain nearly impossible to reach. Two years down the line, and the authorities do not seem to have learnt a lesson. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has lamented his helplessness in controlling the current forest fires raging in the State and has publicly pinned his hopes on the rain gods to douse the fires which have already spread across 3,399 hectares of forest cover. It’s not just Uttarakhand which suffers rampant forest fires in the warmer months, though. Pilgrims to the holy shrine of Vaishno Devi in Katra near Jammu too were not spared last week when around 25,000 bhakts were left stranded as the pilgrimage was suspended due to the forest fire that engulfed the Trikuta hills. It took choppers from the State forest department, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force, and the deployment of police and paramilitary personnel to spring into action in aid of the fire-fighters to contain the blaze. In the deep south of the country, in March this year, 11 trekkers were killed in a forest fire that ravaged Tamil Nadu’s Theni hills. As these forest fires continue to cause death and destruction, a few aspects need attention. Climate change leading to rising temperatures, dry weather conditions, change in wind movements, a lack of rain and the presence of highly combustible, dry kindling from trees especially during the summer months make forests particularly vulnerable to intense, rapidly spreading blazes. Deforestation, locals residents lighting fires to clear terraced fields for cultivation, tourists chucking cigarette butts and other combustibles are all causes of forest fires in hilly regions. The nexus between the timber mafia and forest officials who encroach on forest land ensures fires spiral out of control easily. But natural or man-made, the causes don’t matter. The most important question today is: Are we prepared to deal with this threat? That, indeed, is the question which the Uttarakhand High Court has asked the State Government to answer by today.
We can only suggest that making use of the best of technology to prevent and where not possible to contain forest fires is essential. As is the role of local communities who need to be encouraged to work in tandem with teams of experts to help them understand the situation better. And administrations must train, pay, support and equip our brave fire-fighters better.
Courtesy: The Pioneer