One of the remotest villages in Jammu & Kashmir was razed to the ground on Saturday night as a fire killed at least 500 animals in cattle sheds and destroyed every home. Sukhnai is the last village in Kishtwar district’s Warwan area, which is a hilly six-hour trek from the nearest road and which is cut off by snowfall for the most part of the year. All its 84 houses were reduced to ashes, along with 80 cattle sheds, a middle school, a medicine shop and two general stores, a mosque, two water mills, a ziarat, a state government-run health centre, two anganwadi centres and a telephone booth.
The 621 villagers of 115 families spent the night in the open, sources said. Local police and revenue officials have reached the affected village from Warwan, now the tehsil headquarters. In a village without electricity, residents had been anticipating snowfall that would soon cut them off and had stored huge quantities of grass and firewood for the winter. The fire appears to have originated from one of these heaps, possibly caused by a burning pot. As firewood and grass were stored even on the roofs of all houses, it engulfed the entire village before its residents could react.
Villagers ran out of their houses, carrying their children and untying whatever cattle they could. But they had no time to save 500 or more animals or to take their belongings out their houses. Kishtwar MLA and MoS for Transport Sunil Sharma (BJP), MLC Firdous Tak, Jammu divisional commissioner Pawan Kotwal, Kishtwar deputy commissioner Ghulam Nabi Balwan and senior SP Sandeep Wazir flew to Sukhnai Sunday morning with tents, medicines and rations.
Sharma and Tak announced a grant of Rs 1 crore from their constituency development fund and the State Disaster Relief Fund for reconstruction of all houses. When locals pointed out that snowfall would soon cut them off, the administration agreed to give each family
Rs 3,000 per month for six months to enable them to move to nearby villages. The nearest village, Inshan, is five to six hours’ walk from Sukhnai but villagers wanted to be accommodated farther away, sources said, for fear of disease from the stench of burnt carcasses.
“Despite the arrival of ration from Kishtwar, there were no utensils to cook the meals,” said DC Balwan, adding that utensils were brought from the nearby village and distributed among the victims. As immediate relief, the administration granted Rs 10,000 to each family, while the Red Cross provided tents, medicines and blankets.
Senior officials have been asked to camp at Warwan.