Bhutan — Thimphu city was briefly under a thick blanket of smoke yesterday when a forest fire that started opposite Bap lhakhang raged on for hours destroying more than 100 acres of blue pine forest.
About 300 people including Desuups, members of armed forces, forestry officials and volunteers battled the fire that burned for about eight hours, completely gutting hundreds of spices of shrubs, rhododendron and chirpine among others.
According to eyewitnesses the fire started around 10.30am near the house, where the watch woman of the School for Language and Cultural Studies at Chang Debsi lives.
One of the witnesses, Dema, 59, said a child was playing with a matchbox outside her house, which started the fire.
I had gone to see one of my relatives at the hospital when the incident occurred, she said. The childs mother had also gone out to serve tea to some people when the fire started.
Dema said the childs mother, who is from Tongzhang, Trashiyangtsi, is a single mother.
However, Thimphu dzongkhag forestry officer (DFO), Phento Tshering said the culprit is yet to be identified. At this point we cannot confirm that the child started the fire, he said. He said an appropriate action would be taken once the investigation is over.
Phento Tshering said the fire was in control as of yesterday evening but officials will closely monitor the situation.
An Indian national working at the school said people from around rushed to contain the fire but with the wind fueling it, they couldnt contain it.
Meanwhile, some volunteers said they were poorly equipped to fight the fire. The forest fire management section with the agriculture ministry said farmers do not have the proper equipment to battle forest fires. Some of them had water bags but most of them fought the fire either with tree branches or bare hands.
An official said the environmental damage caused by such fires extends well beyond the affected areas. Damage to biodiversity and livelihoods may take decades to reverse.
Fires rank among the top causes of damage to Bhutans forests. For instance, there were 36 incidences of forest fires in 2010 alone, which burned more than 9,162.81 acres of forests.
According to official data, the second most common cause of forest fire is due to children playing with fire near forests. Electric short circuits also cause forest fires in the country.
Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Lhuentse, Trashigang, and Bumthang are prone to forest fires, officials said.