UPDATED: April 5, 2021 16:44 IST
At least 40 active fires are currently ravaging the forests of Uttarakhand. As per the state government, the fire has affected forests across the Garhwal and Kumaon regions with Nainital, Almora, Tehri and Pauri districts being the worst-hit.
According to reports, the fire has so far destroyed property worth Rs 37 lakh and claimed the lives of at least seven animals.
Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat Sunday held a high-level emergency meeting to discuss ways to control the fire as soon as possible. He also requested the Centre to send help.
As per the chief minister’s request, the Union home ministry dispatched two Indian Air Force helicopters that have been deployed in the firefighting operations.
Here is all you need to know about Uttarakhand forest fires:
What are the worst-affected areas by fire?
As per the state government, the fire has spread in the forests of the Garhwal and Kumaon regions. The worst-affected districts are Nainital, Almora, Tehri and Pauri.
Fierce fires have been reported in the Bageshwar range, Gankhet range, Kapkot range, Bageshwar range and Dharamghar range. In Rudraprayag, a forest fire has been reported from Kedarghati as well. In some areas, the fire has also reached the villages adjoining the forests.
What caused the fire?
Forest fires are a regular occurrence in Uttarakhand at this time of the year. They are usually caused by dry leaves fallen from trees during the season. However, this may be the worst fire since 2016.
Since January this year, there have been 983 incidents of forest fire in the state affecting 1,292 hectares of land, the state government said on Sunday.
In March alone, the state registered 278 cases of a forest fire.
The reason for such frequent and massive fires could be Covid-19. Annually, the state government undertakes a series of measures to tame forest fires like raking dry leaves and creating fire barriers. However, due to Covid-19 pandemic-induced lockdown, most of these activities could not be carried out.
Usually, the fire does not get this severe as the rains, expected at this time of the year in the region, douse the fire or wet the leaves before they catch fire. However, this year the deficient rain has left the leaves dry.
The firefighters are currently battling with dry leaves and sticks collected over the period of one and a half year, making the challenge difficult.
What is the government doing to extinguish the forest fire?
To tame the raging fire, the Uttarakhand government has deployed 12,000 forest department personnel. The state has also set up 1300 fire stations to top forest fires.
Forest department officials have been asked not to take any leave and keep a close watch on the situation. The authorities are also clearing out the bushes around residential so that the forest fires do not spread there. The Centre is also set to send a team of National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF).
Meanwhile, two Mi-17 helicopters sent by the Indian Air Force have also reached Uttarakhand and have started fighting fire with the help of 5,000-litre tanks. One helicopter is helping operations in the Kumao region while the other has been deployed in the Garhwal region.
The helicopter dedicated to the Garhwal region is currently engaged in firefighting operations in Tehri Garhwal, using a helipad in the Koti colony as a base. The helicopter is collecting water from Tehri lake and using it to douse fire in the forests in the area.
After Tehri Garhwal, the helicopter will move on to the helipad in Shrinagar where it will use water from the Shrinagar dam to fight fire in the forests of Rudraprayag.
The second helicopter has been stationed in Haldwani which will collect water from the Bhimtal lake to extinguish the forest fires in Begeshwar and Nainital.
In some parts of Rudraprayag, reports say the villagers are also trying to fight the fire with available means as it has started spreading towards residential areas.
Chief Minister Tirath Sigh Rawat has issued a helpline – 1800-180-4141 – for anyone who might need assistance due to forest fires.