Nepal — Wildfires engulfed forests in as many as 37 districts of Nepal by Saturday, reported the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
Wildfires, which were restricted to mostly Tarai districts until a few days ago, spread not only in hills but also in mountain districts like Humla and Solukhumbu on Saturday. Wildfires engulfed forests in protected areas like Chitwan National Park (CNP) and Banke National Park. ICIMOD reported a forest fire in Lelep VDC-3 of Taplejung district, which forms part of Kanchanjungha Conservation Area, too.
According to ICIMOD, which uses satellite images to report forest fires, altogether 149 wildfires were detected in different parts of the country on Saturday, which is one of highest numbers of forest fires detected by NASA satellites this year.
“Saturday turned out to be the worst day of this fire season,” said Sundar Prasad Sharma, Coordinator of Regional South Asia Wildland Fire Network (RSAWFN). “However, in the days to come, more forest fires can affect more districts.”
According to the Nepal Forest Fire Management Chapter (NFMC) of the RSAWFN, more than two wildfires were detected in districts like Makawanpur, Sindhuli, Nawalparasi, Chitwan, Udayapur, Banke, Kapilvastu, Kavre, Khotang, Solukhumbu, Lalitpur, Dang, Tanahun and Morang.
In some Tarai districts like Banke and Chitwan, wildfires have gone out of control of local communities and forest authorities. Especially in forests along the Chure range, authorities and local people have failed to initiate any efforts to fight wildfires.
“Several wildfires are raging through forests of the Chure area of Banke for the last two weeks,” said Tularam Khatri, Banke district secretary of Federation of Community Forest Users´ Group (FECOFUN). “But, neither we nor forest authorities have been able to reach fire-affected areas of the Chure range.”
According to Khatri, Community Forest Users´ Groups (CFUGs) have somehow managed to control wildfires in their areas so far. “Apart from the Chure area, it is the forests in the Banke National Park (BNP) area that have been worst affected by wildfires,” said Khatri. “The authorities are not active to douse wildfires in the park area. But, they do not even allow the locals to enter the core area of the BNP for the purpose.”
Sharma, of the RSAWFN, stressed the need for deploying rapid response teams to fight wildfires effectively. “Wildfires are chronic in this season,” said he. “What we need is strong teams to contain forest fires. The Nepal Army (NA)´s new directorate, which was formed to integrate former Maoist combatants, can be used as a force to fight forest fires.”
“Such a team cannot be developed overnight,” said Sharma. “For the time being, the government should make people, especially those living near forests, careful about handling wildfires. Sending children to look after cattle in forest area can be too risky this time around.”
In the map above, dark brown spots mean fire confidence level of above 70 percent, light brown above mean 50 percent and yellow spots mean confidence level below 50 percent.