Updated: April 5, 2021 7:50:06 am
WITH OVER 1,000 incidents of forest fire reported over the last six months, including 45 in the last 24 hours alone, Uttarakhand Sunday reached out to the Centre for helicopters and personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) even as Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat held an emergency meeting of state government officials.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah posted on Twitter that he has been briefed about the situation by Rawat and that directions have been issued to send the equipment and personnel needed.
In the emergency meeting, Rawat directed Forest officials and district authorities to not sanction regular leave for their staff until the situation is brought under control.
According to the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), over 12,000 Forest personnel have been deployed for fire-fighting operations. Forest Department data show that 1,028 incidents of forest fire affected over 1,359 hectares since October 1, 2020 — after the rains — mainly in the districts of Nainital, Almora, Tehri Garhwal and Pauri Garhwal.
At least five people and seven animals are reported to have been killed in these fires.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a senior official described the situation as “alarming” because the “peak time” for forest fires is yet to come. “The peak time is the third week of May when the temperature is the highest. But this year, it has started from the first week of April. The Meteorological Department has predicted rain on April 6 and 7. That may bring some relief. But a further dry spell will worsen the situation,” the official said.
“The situation is worrisome due to dryness in the atmosphere, high temperatures and wind velocity. There are multiple fires in the state. We have upgraded the fire protection system to the highest level. Officers have been asked to camp at headquarters and senior officers have been assigned districts to monitor and review the situation,” said Rajiv Bhartari, Head of Forest Force (HoFF), Uttarakhand.
Fewer incidents in peak period
Officials said that during the peak forest fire period — February to June — last year, only 135 incidents took place in which 172 hectares were affected. The numbers have been significant the years before: 2,981 hectares (2019), 4,480 hectares (2018), 1,228 hectares (2017), 4,433 hectares (2016) and 701 hectares (2015).
The Chief Minister attributed most of these fires to “deliberate” acts by “mischevious elements” although officials said the burning of crop residue in farms may also be a factor.
“It has been noticed that most of the incidents are triggered by unwanted elements. This is a punishable offence…people should inform the police about such elements,” DGP Ashok Kumar said in a video message, adding that 278 incidents were reported in March alone.
Officials said two people died in separate incidents in January and two others on February 12. Another death was reported two days ago.
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