Fighting a 5-day-old forest fire

Fighting a 5-day-old forest fire

02 March 2012

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Bhutan — An indefatigable team from Trashigang has been at war with the blaze from Day One

Shingkhar, Trashigang: “The fire in Jamkhar, Trashiyangtse, has reached Shingkhar,” the chief forest officer (CFO) of Trashigang division forest office, Kinzang Gyeltshen, is informed.

It started around 4:20pm on February 26 and, since then, it has gone uphill towards Jamkhardrang.

The CFO and his team, who have spent three sleepless nights fighting the forest fire in Trashigang, are now headed to Shingkhar.

The previous night the team spent the night patrolling the road at Rolong, to prevent the flames from spreading to the Trashigang dzong area. A national workforce camp in Retsaloo and Dubthob lhakhang in Chazam was saved from the fire.

On February 23, the team was up until 3 in the morning battling the flames. After containing the fire in Rolong and Retsaloo, the team is headed for Jamkhar. At around 1:30pm, the team reaches Duksum for lunch.

Since time is of essence, the team has to make do with fast food like noodles for lunch. After a quick lunch, Kinzang Gyeltshen’s team is already driving to Shingkhar, around 15km from Duksum.

At Jamkhar, gup Cheku and assistant forest officer Tashi Gyelpo await them.

Tashi Gyelpo says the fire has been prevented from moving towards Jamkhar village. “Some three groups of men, manned with fire pressure pump water bags, are guarding the villages at strategic points,” he said.

Except for a tiny hut in Golamzor, no damage to property has been reported.

The villagers have been actively involved in fighting the fire. “Even the villagers have had no sleep for the past three nights, fighting back the fire,” gup Cheku says.

At Shingkhar, some police personnel, foresters and villagers, strapped with yellow pressure pump water bags, have come to refill their water bags.

“Hey, is there water?” shouts a male firefighter voice from the charred forests. “Get some water down here, we need more water.” The eyes of the policemen, villagers and foresters have turned red, and shoes are stained with black coaldust and white ash.

Even the faces have stains of coal dust, ash and red soil. Black remains of leaves are everywhere.

Jamkhar has been on fire since February 26. The fire could not be contained even after two days. “The wind was too strong, and the inferno just overpowering,” a villager said. “Falling stones are a real danger.”

The villager says the fire has now reached Bainangdaza, and is burning towards Nimsoborang Rotpa, but has no chance to spread beyond, provided there are no strong winds.

But the CFO decides to check. The team descends downhill, taking the narrow track littered with a trail of burnt leaves. Since Bainangdaza is steep rocky terrain the fire on it is ignored.

There are no serious infernos. The team’s worry was the fire should be prevented from spreading beyond Jamkhardrang. A handful of dry logs on fire are sprayed with water, since it poses a risk if it rolls downhill.

The team jumps and slides over huge rocks along the trail. In Nimsoborang Rotpa, the team clears dry bamboo leaves.

Then they move quickly through a rocky narrow slide area that opens up at the bottom of the rocky mountain of Bainangdaza. Here boulders roll down from the mountain above.

Only by nightfall is the team back at Jamkhar. At around 7 pm, they get served with a mug of Mirinda before heading back home.

At 7:35pm, the CFO and his team are still on their way back home when his cell rings. “Sir, there’s another forest fire in Kanglung,” the voice on the other end informs.

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