Ground and air effort extinguishes second forest fire

Ground and air effort extinguishes second forest fire

15 February 2016

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Bhutan–  A day after aiding firefighters control the forest fire at Sangaygang, the government’s helicopter was back in Thimphu to fight its second forest fire in Samarzingkha on February 13.

The helicopter and a group of around 50 firefighters on the ground, including personnel of the army, police, forest department, Desuups, volunteers and residents of the area, battled to bring the fire under control.

Many firefighters were still at Sangaygang attempting to extinguish the fire there.

By the time it was controlled at around 2:30pm, around 50 acres, most of it used to plant tree saplings, had been burned at Samarzingkha. The fire began at around 11:30pm.

The forest department caught a group of five minors. One of the minors is believed to have started the fire while playing with matches. The minors have been handed over to the police. While the minors have been released, the police will begin legal proceedings against them.

No one has been arrested yet in relation to the fires at Sangaygang. Four fires have occurred there this winter, all suspected to have been caused by discarded cigarette butts at popular dating spots.

The helicopter made several sorties over the Samarzingkha fire, each time dropping around 800 litres of water.

According to police, the helicopter was very helpful in aiding the ground effort.

The ground and air effort also saved some houses from being razed.

The pilot of the helicopter, captain David Peel, said that the wind was stronger than the previous day and it was a challenge to drop water in the right place but that in his opinion, the job was well done.

It was also pointed out that the public did not rush towards the helicopter as they had during the first day of firefighting operations. David Peel attributed this to efforts put in by the police. “This meant it was a lot safer for us to do what we were supposed to,” he said.

In another change, a ground to air link was established using mobile phones allowing the pilot to communicate with a person on the ground. As a result of the newly established link, the helicopter was asked to drop water on a few remaining hotspots at Sangaygang before leaving for Paro.

However, the pilot had suggested earlier that ground personnel must be equipped with aviation radios.

In response to criticism about the helicopter’s bucket being too small, David Peel said that for the altitude, dropping 800 litres each time and at the frequency it was being done, is a lot of water.

Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services CEO, Chhewang Gyeltshen, said that the helicopter had performed as per expectations. “It’s a proud moment for the company,” he said, fulfilling the mandate of the government.

The CEO pointed out that public feedback has also been very positive. He said that initially people tended to focus on the cost of the helicopter and whether Bhutan would be able to afford it, but that overnight, its usefulness had been demonstrated and witnessed. He added that some were even saying a second helicopter will be

Chhewang Gyeltshen said the second helicopter is arriving in either May or June. The delivery date will be finalized this week.

Meanwhile, the helicopter also carried out a medical evacuation to Phuentsholing following the Samarzingkha fire, and another one from Bumthang, yesterday.

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