1,600 fires this season; funds, staff crunch hamper blaze management operations : The Tribune India

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1,600 fires this season; funds, staff crunch hamper blaze management operations

1,600 fires this season; funds, staff crunch  hamper blaze management operations

Fires singed several acres of forests around Shimla on Saturday. TRIBUNE PHOTO



Tribune News Service

Subhash Rajta

Shimla, June 8

Himachal Pradesh has already recorded over 1,600 forest fires this season, making it one of the worst years in terms of forest fires over the last one decade. The rampaging fires have scorched over 17,000 hectares of forest land, causing extensive damage to flora and fauna and environment. “The forest fires have been really bad this time. The number of fires this time is already the fourth highest in the last ten years,” said Nishant Mandhotra, the nodal officer for forest fires.

At ground level

There’s just one guard manning vast areas in the forest. Vehicles are not available for the staff to move quickly in case of fire or any other exigency. So, it becomes difficult to control the fires. —A fire official

Even as the fires have been quite bad, the department hasn’t sought assistance from external agencies like air force or NDRF to put out the blazing flames raging across the state on the grounds that the department did not allow any fire to go out of control. “We were asked by the Forest Ministry if we needed help to put out a fire close to a wildlife sanctuary in district Shimla as the fire had continued for seven-eight days,” said Mandhotra. “When we checked with our officials concerned, they said the fire was under control. It was the only fire when the option of using NDRF was considered. If fire threatens some critical facility, the NDFR can be called in urgently,” he said.

Meanwhile, some forest officials point out that limited budget to carry out precautionary anti-fire measures like controlled burning, maintaining fire lines and shortage of staff and vehicles were hampering the fire-fighting abilities of the department.

“Ahead of summer, we carry out activities like controlled burning of inflammable material and maintenance of fire lines to ensure fires do not spread far and wide. The problem is, there’s not enough budget to carry out these activities effectively in all fire-prone areas due to inadequate budget,” said a fire official. “In the absence of these measures, it becomes difficult to control the fire as and when it is triggered,” he added.

Another official pointed out the shortage of staff and lack of vehicles that affect mobility at the ground level was another factor hampering fire-fighting.

“There’s just one guard manning vast areas in the forest. The local people don’t come to put out the fire as promptly as they used to come earlier. Vehicles are not available for the staff to move quickly in case of fire or any other exigency. So, it becomes difficult to control the fires,” the official said.

About The Author

The Tribune News Service brings you the latest news, analysis and insights from the region, India and around the world. Follow the Tribune News Service for a wide-ranging coverage of events as they unfold, with perspective and clarity.

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