India — With the forest department having inadequate facilities to monitor and control forest fires in remote areas with its limited manpower and people setting forests on fire for their personal benefit, precious flora and fauna of the state worth crores of rupees is getting reduced to ashes every winter.
In Kullu, where precious forest wealth is falling prey to fires these days, the sky remains almost covered with toxic smoke. Most forest fires here are attributed to the long dry spell and less snowfall. Sources said that villagers set forest land on fire with a view to encroach the land, but at times, the fires spread fast. Farmers also try to destroy unwanted shrubs and thorns from their land by burning them, which often becomes uncontrollable. Unable to find out the exact reasons, police generally register cases and close the same later, saying that fire had broken out due to cigarette littering.
Senior citizens in Kullu say that shepherds are the main offenders in fire incidents, who want dry grass destroyed so that new soft green grass grows there, which their sheep like the most. Many stockmen also spark fire in forest land to destroy the shrubs and thorns. Also, some people have the misconception that smoke coming from the fire generates clouds and proves beneficial after prolonged dry spell, they said. The uncontrollable fires destroy pine and deodar trees, along with many insects, birds and animals, they pointed out.
Fire officials said that most forest fires are reported during night time and the department is technically weak in dousing such fires, the spots being away from the roads. Lack of staff makes it difficult for the department to control the fires, which often continue for days or weeks. The department was also deputing women guards, who were not effective in such cases, especially during night time, officials said.
Range officer, Pune Ram, said that most forest fires start during night time and their staff, along with fire service, police, ITBP and other volunteers step in to minimize losses. “A big fire was reported in the forests of Bran near Manali on Saturday, which was controlled on Sunday. It destroyed precious flora and fauna. We do get help from local people, but often, this is not sufficient.” Another devastating fire was reported from Baragran forests in December 2013, which gutted hundreds of pine trees, he said.
Pine and deodar forests near Manikaran, Jari, Bran, Bhekhli, Gadhsa, Kais and Bhuntar in Kullu district are prone to fire and fire incidents are rampant here in winter. Officials said that police, even after long investigations, were unable to find witnesses. With culprits going scot free, these incidents continue unabated, they added.