Dry spell, rising mercury fuel forest fire fears in Himachal

845 cases of forest fires already reported this year, reveal forest officials

Written by Ashwani Sharma | Shimla | Published: March 20, 2018 9:34:25 am
rising mercury fuel forest fire fears in Himachal Smoke rises after a forest fire broke out near Taradevi jungle, Shimla, Monday. Pradeep Kumar

Prolonged dry spell and rising temperature has set off alarm bells for the forest department over forest fires, which cause losses to the tune of crores every year in summer months in the state. Forest officials revealed that nearly 845 cases of forest fires have already been reported this year, including a recent incident when 16 families at a village were rendered homeless as forest fire engulfed their village late last month. State’s Forest Minister Govind Thakur said: “Danger of forest fires is more this time looking at the rising temperature and less rains throughout the state. This an open wealth (forest) even best precautions taken sometime don’t prove to be foolproof. Yet, we are having our official machinery in complete readiness to deal with the eventualities and emergencies. Some new innovations have also been done to get early alerts on fires…”

According to data available about earlier forest fires, around 1832 incidents of the forest fires were reported in 2016-17 causing loss to wealth in 19,535 hectares of forest land. The loss in terms of revenue was Rs 3.50 crores. Similarly, 672 cases of forest fires were reported in 2015-16 causing a loss of Rs 1.34 crore to forest wealth over 5,750 hectares. Earlier to this in 2014-15, more than 725 cases of the forest fires were reported. The loss to the forest wealth in 7,627 hectres was Rs 1.03 crores.

Unofficial figures revealed that the year 2012-13 was worst as fires consumed forest wealth on 20,763 hectares. Around 1800 cases of the forest fires were reported and loss was more than Rs 4.50 crores in that year. As par weather department , Himachal Pradesh has 72 per cent rain deficit during past two months of January and February, which is highest since 2014. The state has received only 55.1 mm of the rains in January and February, 2018. Data reveals a 91 per cent shortfall in January 2018 and 53 per cent in February 2018.

While January 2018 recorded only 9.2 mm of rains, February saw 46 mm, said Dr Manmohan Singh, Director, Indian Meteorological Station in Shimla. One of precautions that the forest department has taken this time is setting up of rapid firefighting team of 1900 members. Satellite-based Fire Alert Messaging System has been developed by Forest Survey of India (FSI) and will be used adopted in getting alerts on the fire incidents.

“First time we have a Rs one crore in the budget for the fire control and mass awareness drive. A committee under Additional Chief secretary (Forests) Tarun Kapoor has also been set up to get funds sanctioned from the Centre for dealing with forest fires,” said a senior official of the Forest Department. The government admitted in the Vidhan Sabha last week that the forest fires are sometime also caused by locals either as mischief or in greed to get a better crop of grass for their domestic cattle.

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