With dry conditions prevailing in Himachal Pradesh for the last two months, the state has witnessed a spurt in forest fires. According to forest officials, nearly 500 forest fires have been reported in the state since August, most of which occurred in the districts of Kullu and Shimla.
A forest fire near Nakthan village in Kullu’s Parvati valley continued for around two weeks before it died down a few days ago, destroying the undergrowth of the area, residents said.
“There were more forest fire incidents this time due to drought conditions. In October alone, 17 forest fires were reported in Kullu, causing a loss worth lakhs of rupees, and affecting birds and animals. The grass and undergrowth is dry these days, due to which even a small spark, such as someone dropping a burning matchstick or bidi/cigarette, can quickly develop into a massive fire,” said Durga Singh, a fire official in Kullu.
A forest official from Parvati Valley said that rainfall in the area around a week ago provided some respite from the frequent fires. “Most of the fires are starting from patches of dry grasslands. In many cases, people are burning fields or grasslands adjacent to the forests to clear the land. But when left uncontrolled, it spreads quickly,” he said.
Officials said that besides the Parvati Valley, a large number of fires have been reported from Rohru and Rampur in Shimla. With some types of trees shedding their leaves in the autumn season, the forest floors become full of small fuels such as dead leaves, twigs and the highly inflammable Chir pine needles.
Sometimes, people passing through a forest may light a fire to cook or for warmth and leave it burning, which may cause a fire. Forest fires can also start from natural causes such as lightning, rolling stones and rubbing of dry bamboos with each other.
Forest fires in Himachal are common in the pre-monsoon season as well. From March to July this year, the state suffered an estimated loss of Rs 40 lakh from around 450 forest fires which affected more than 2,500 hectares of land, according to the fire protection and fire control unit of the forest department.
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