Bhutan — With winter at its peak, forest fires in the east have started taking their annual toll once again.
On February 10, a forest fire destroyed over 600 acres of pine forest above Duksum, Trashiyangtse, burning most of the re-plantation forestry officials carried out last year.
Officials said that the fire had destroyed 70 percent of the pine and bamboo re-plantation. The fire is suspected to have started from a roadside fire left unattended.
Earlier on February 7, a fire, fanned by strong winds, burnt over 150 acres of forest in Trashigang Pam, threatening even settlements. In another forest fire, caused by a 24-year-old man, after smoking marijuana, over an acre of vegetation was burnt down on February 4.
However, according to forestry officials, forest fire incidents are reduced, compared with past years and is decreasing every year.
Records show that 13 forest fires have occurred in Trashiyangtse dzongkhag last year alone, destroying about 2,830 acres of forests. Of the eight gewogs, six are fire prone areas. However, this year the dzongkhag saw only one case so far.
We were expecting to have a forest-fire-free year this year because a lot of awareness campaigns and precautionary measures have been put in place, said Trashiyangtse forest officer, Phuntsho Tobgay.
According to forest officials, earlier, people deliberately lit up forests to plant lemon grass and fodder grass for domestic animals but the trend has declined.
I think creating awareness amongst people and setting up community forests helped a lot to reduce forest fire incidences, said a forest officer in Mongar.
In Trashigang, forest fire committees were established at the village level to tackle forest-fire-related problems. In the past, people wouldnt even report a fire, forget fight them, said a forest officer in Trashigang, Karma Dorji. Since villagers were given the responsibility of managing forests, theyre always vigil and careful, he said.
Trashigang and Trashiyangtse dzongkhags have handed over 17 community forests to local communities last year. Some said it has boosted the sense of belonging in the community.
Loday, a villager from Pam, said that the villages react swiftly whenever they see a forest fire. Some reported the fire, some rushed off to fight it, while some villagers went to gather friends, he said. The fire was subdued two metres away from his house, where he runs the only shop in the village. Im ever so grateful to them.