INDIA – The pilgrimage to the Vaishno Devi shrine resumed today after a brief halt following a raging fire in the Trikuta hills that was brought under control by Air Force helicopters equipped with specialised buckets carrying approximately 2,500 litres of water at a time, officials said.
The pilgrimage was suspended yesterday as the fire spread in the hills, the abode of Mata Vaishno Devi, in Katra town of Reasi district in Jammu.
“The fire broke out in Trikuta hills and spread in a large forest area… resulting in suspension of the yatra last evening”, a senior official of the Shri Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine Board said.
Though the fire was controlled, it continues to smoulder in some parts of the forest, he said.
As the fire was close to the path used by pilgrims and battery cars to reach the holy shrine, around 25,000 devotees were stopped at Katra base camp, he said.
They have been permitted to continue their journey towards the shrine. To extinguish the inferno, the Indian Air Force (IAF) deployed two choppers, one each from the Daring Dragons and Snow Leopards units of the Western Air Command.
Using specialised ‘Bambi buckets’ suspended on a cable, the helicopters poured thousands of litres of water, sourced from the the nearby Reasi reservoir, on the flames.
The authorities have deployed a large number of forest officials who are being assisted by shrine board officials as well as locals.
The fire started from Hinkoti area, spread to Saket point and then towards the Sanjichat helipad area, officials said.