India– In a gruesome incident that highlights the dangerous proportion that forest fires in Uttarakhand are assuming, a woman and her 6-year-old son were burnt alive when flames engulfed as many as 100 huts of labourers inNainital district. The forest department has now sought help from the Army, police, and district administration to douse the massive blazes that are wreaking havoc in the forests of the hill state.
The latest fire, which claimed two lives on Tuesday, started in the Gaula river mining area in Haldwani forest division, and quickly spread because of high velocity winds. In a short span of time, the blaze had gutted around 100 huts nearMotahaldu gate. The victim Reeta Devi (40), who worked as a labourer in the area, rushed to save her six-year-old son who was sleeping inside the hut. By the time she entered the shed, the son was charred to death, and Devi could not escape the flames either. It took firemen nearly three hours to bring the blaze under control.
Talking to TOI, principal chief conservator of forests Rajender Mahajan said, “The fire in Gaula mining river area spread after a labourer was cooking in the open. I have given instructions to forest staff to remain vigilant in mining areas where labourers cook using firewood.”
According to official figures provided by the forest department, 670 incidents of forest fires have been recorded in 2015-2016 (until April 27). The fires have destroyed 1,350 hectares of forest area. In 2014-15, the number of forest fireswas recorded at 515 and the area destroyed at 930 hectares. The figure was much lower in 2013-14, when only 245 incidents of forest fires were recorded and 384 hectares of land was gutted.
Mahajan said that though 4,500 forest employees and temporary workers are engaged in controlling forest fires in the state, the department is unable to deal with the rising cases. On Wednesday alone, some 92 forest fire incidents in the state destroyed 209 hectares.
The department claims it has spent Rs 3.5 crore to fight forest fires. “We distributed Rs 3.5 crore on Wednesday to all our divisional forest officers to purchase vehicles to reach fire incidents faster and also hire Prantiya Rakshak Dal(PRD) jawans to snuff them out,” he said.
The forest department recently set up 37 control rooms and 1,116 crew stations to keep a check on forest fires. Mahajan said the department requires more manpower and resources to combat the menace. “The forest department needs support from Army, local police, district administration and villagers as we are facing staff shortage and don’t have enough resources to deal with massive forest fires on our own.”
Raging forest fires not only put at risk human lives and settlements but also lead to large-scale displacement of wildlife. On April 16, a raging inferno razed around 50 hectares of Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR), which is home to 215 tigers. In the latest incident of a protected area being destroyed by a flare up, 120 sq km (approximately 12,000 hectares) of Rajaji Tiger Reserve was affected by a forest fire this week. Rajaji has 13 tigers and 309 elephants besides various other species such as leopards, cheetal, and sambhar.