Uttarakhand forest fire: Rain brings relief, death toll reaches seven

Uttarakhand forest fire: Rain brings relief, death toll reaches seven

04 May 2016

published by http://indianexpress.com

India — A much awaited spell of rains lashed most parts of Uttarakhand overnight supplementing ongoing fire dousing operations across the state in a big way even as the toll in the blazing forest fires rose to seven with a fire watcher’s death.

Light to moderate rains hit the higher reaches of the mountains in the evening on Tuesday and swept the plains overnight with Munsyari in the hills receiving 11 mm of rains and Dehradun in the plains recording 7 mm of showers, Director MeT department Vikram Singh told PTI.

The exact data of rain at other places is yet to be compiled but almost all the districts in the hills as well as in the plains have received rains in varying degrees, he said.

“It is going to supplement the firefighting operations underway in a major way as it will settle the plumes of smoke rising from flaming forests which had reduced visibility besides moisturising the woods which is likely to bring down the number of fresh fire incidents,” the MeT director said.

According to latest data released by Principal Conservator of forest BP Gupta, 3465.94 hectares of forest land lies ravaged by forest fires.

The toll has also risen to seven with a fire watcher’s death last night due to suffocation from smoke rising from forests in Matiyali range of Pauri district, officials said.

Two women had died in Uttarkashi on February 2 when forest fires started in Uttarakhand followed by the death of a woman labourer from Jharkhand and her child near Golagate in Nainital district late last month as forest fire engulfed her slum.

A constable was killed in Chamoli district while trying to douse the flames on the evening of May 2 after being hit by a boulder falling from a hillside.

Tara Singh Sob, 76, of Silgadi feels very strange these days. He had never seen such view of nature ever before. Heavy haze throughout the day in the month of May is what he is finding quite surprising. “Mist was seen in winter morning and evenings. But seeing such mist-like haze during summer is strange, I have never seen this before,” he said.

This year, almost all parts of Doti district are experiencing such uncommon weather. Locals are finding it difficult to carry out their daily activities due to insufficient light even during the day. “It’s very dark all the time. We see sunlight only for a while in day,” said Khadak Bikram Shahi, a businessman from Dipayal. “Though the weather is very hot all the time, we haven’t seen the sun properly for a week now,” he added.

Locals feel that that haze has been due to the recent surge in forest fires in and around the district. Forest fires have been catching up in the region – in the mountain and adjacent Tarai districts. “Perhaps it’s due to smoke released from the forest fires in our and surrounding districts, Narendra Khadka, president of local branch of Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI) said. “Fire has destroyed most of the forests in the district. You can see literally every forest in the district has been engulfed by fire. It seems that the smoke released from these fires have clouded the atmosphere here,” he said.

The haze has taken toll on public health as well. Locals have been complaining of respiratory problems, headache, irritation in eyes and various skin related problems. Suraj Baldar, assistant doctor at the eye clinic of the District Hospital, informed that numbers of patients visiting the facility has been increasing. “Though we used to see surge in the number of eye patients at this time of the year, this time their number has been quite high, ” he said adding, “The quality of the air has degraded.”

Similarly, Harish Shah, public health monitor at facility pointed that there has been surge in the number of people complaining of respiratory problems. “Even when people are simply sitting or taking rest, they are sneezing time and again. Many find it difficult to breathe,” he said. “Such problem is seen even more in motorcyclists.”

Meanwhile, Min Kumar Aryal, meteorologist in the district said that such atmosphere has been prevalent in most part of the country. “This is not an issue that Doti alone is facing. Other districts are also facing similar circumstances. Forest fire in the western side of the district has worsened air quality here,” he said.

He claims that the haze would subside if it would rain. “Pollution levels in the atmosphere would drop down significantly if it would rain. Normally at this time of year, the district should receive pre-monsoon rain fall. But this year, it has not rained so far. This has escalated pollutant levels in the atmosphere,” he explained. – See more at: http://www.myrepublica.com/society/story/41602/forest-fire-haze-robs-doti-of-sunlight.html#sthash.yqBwgZho.dpuf

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