Country is going through worst wildfire season on record

22 May 2019

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NEPAL – The country is going through worst wildfire season on record with around 700 forest fires being reported daily so far this month of May, forest officials say.

More than 14,600 incidents of wildfire have been reported in different parts of the country from May 1 to May 19, according to Sundar Prasad Sharma, an under-secretary at the Department of Forest and Soil Conservation.

“We are witnessing an incredibly large number of wildfire incidents this season. A few days back, there were almost 1,000 wildfires every day. Undoubtedly, this is the largest forest fire season in the country’s history,” Sharma told the Post.

In the past, wildfire numbers hardly exceeded 2,500 per season, destroying roughly 200,000 hectares of forest cover.

The wildfire season in Nepal begins some time between November and December and continues until the onset of monsoon. The last week of April is considered the peak season for forest fires.

In the last 20 days, there were four instances of wildfire numbers exceeding more than 1,000 in a single day; the country witnessed an unprecedented 2,004 forest fires on May 10.

“The daily wildfire outbreak numbers have rarely surpassed 100. One exception was in 2004 when 420 forest fires were reported in a day,” Sharma said. “None of us had imagined there would ever be 2,004 wildfires in a day.”

Wildfires have mostly affected the western part of the country this year.

Forests in 43 districts were burning when the wildfire tally crossed the 2,000 mark this season. Between April 20 and April 30– peak wildfire season–the authorities recorded 7,254 breakouts.

The annual occurrence of forest fire has been the biggest threat to country’s forest cover which had made a significant recovery thanks to years of reforestation and conservation efforts from the government and local communities.

Wildfires have also threatened the country’s biodiversity, wildlife, human lives and property.

The year 2009 was the deadliest forest fire season when 49 people, including 13 Nepal Army personnel, died while controlling forest fires in Ramechhap district.

The country seriously lacks preparedness, resources and trained personnel to deal with forest fires.

“All we can do is watch our forest burn. The government bodies been unable to act because of limited resources. There are neither trained firefighters nor safety gears to control the forest fires,” Sharma said.  “There should be a separate unit to respond to wildfires. Without institutional and structural strengthening, not much can be done.”

Whenever there are forest fires close to human settlements, it is usually the members of local community forest users’ groups, forest officials and security personnel who risk their lives to put out the fires.

Dinesh Mandal, a forester at the Nawalparasi District Forest Office, recently posted a video on his Facebook page where forest officers are seen putting out a forest fire using bushes at night.

“Attempting to fight wildfire without any gear is suicidal,” said Sharma, reminding the wildfire-related casualties in Salyan district recently.

“If only we had necessary resources, those lives lost in Salyan could have been saved.”

Published: 22-05-2019 07:35

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