Bhutan — A forest fire that began at around 5:30 in the evening of March 27 in Trashigang has so far destroyed more than 100 acres of chirpine forest and seriously injured a woman fire fighter from Bartsham gewog.
Forty-year old Londey got caught in the raging flames and suffered 70 percent superficial burns, according to Trashigang hospital’s senior medical officer, Dr. Taka.
She is conscious right now but the first eight hours from the time of the burn is very crucial for body fluid stabilisation, he said, adding that the patient would be referred to the Mongar regional hospital after stabilisation.
Another 62-year old also suffered minor burns and is being treated at the Trashigang hospital. Sonam escaped major burns as he ducked down when the flames leaped at him.
The fire that began somewhere between the confluence of the Gamrichu and Gongrichu and the Mukthangkhar village was spreading towards the Bartsham-Bidung gewog border.
According to the Trashigang divisional forest officer (DFO), K B Samal, some 40 villagers from Bartsham gewog and 10 dzongkhag and forest officials were combating the fire.
We have not been able to bring the fire under control basically because of the sunny and windy weather, he said.
The DFO told Kuensel that the cause of the fire was certainly man made. Most probably it was started by cow herders or illegal fishermen or somebody from Mukthangkhar village itself, he said.
He added that given the relatively dry windy weather, inaccessible terrain, and highly inflammable chirpine and lemon grass (since they contain raisin and oil and other volatile materials), fighting fire was a daunting challenge.
One can see from Trashigang town that the fire has jumped over the roads and spread across the steep terrain of Bartsham gewog.
This, according to the DFO, was because the fire in chirpine forest which starts off as a ground fire spreads to the treetop and jumps to the neighboring treetops causing a ‘crown fire’.
The tired fighters are pinning their hope to control the fire on the broad leaf forest that dots Bartsham-Bidung border. The broad leaf forest not only reduced the intensity of the fire making it easier for fighters to control it, but also occurrence of crown fire in broad leaf forests in Bhutan was less.
According to the DFO, if the cause was man made and intentional it was done for four reasons. Cattle herders did it to enhance fresh growth of grass for grazing. Burnt forests facilitated human and animal mobility. Villagers lighted fires to scare away the wild boars that destroyed their crops. Lemon grass harvesters made a better yield in the following season.
Meanwhile, a forest fire in Thimphu destroyed about 10 acres of chirpine forests on the hillside above Dechenphodrang Monastic School on March 27.
According to a forestry official, a woman living near the monastic school had made a fire outside her house to heat some water to bathe, and wash clothes. After she was done the woman reportedly put off the fire but the gusty afternoon wind picked up the dying cinders and spread it across the woods.
Monks from the monastic school, forestry officials, members of the armed forces and several volunteers bought the fire under control three hours after it had started around 12:30 pm.