Uttarakhand, Himachal still smoulder, but fires ‘under control’

03 May 2016


The Army, the Indian Air Force, three teams of the National Disaster Relief Force, and 6,000 firefighters have been working round the clock to douse massive forest fires in the hill states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

Hundreds of forest fires blazing across the forests of north India for over a week spread to a prominent boarding school in Himachal Pradesh's Kasauli district on Monday afternoon, triggering panicked evacuation of students.

Television visuals showed children being taken out of the premises of the Pinegrove School as fire trucks rushed to the campus.

Fire also spread to Lawrence School in Kasauli, 5 km from Pinegrove School, as students evacuated in a hurry with columns of smoke descending on the complex.

The fire at Lawrence school was brought under control before it could cause damage, said R Chauhan, a teacher at Lawrence school.

''The fire broke out in forests in Kasauli areas and forests surrounding the Sanawar School were also affected but the school complex was fully safe and fires have been extinguished'', said Rakesh Kanwar, deputy commissioner, Solan.

While authorities claimed the fires were now under control, residents all across the mountains continued to see billowing smoke all around till this morning.

Blazes were reported from 12 new places in the forests around Shimla, with chief minister Virbhadra Singh saying a rise in temperature caused the fire in Shimla rural forest division that gutted 50 hectares.

''It is nothing new. Fire break out in forest areas is due to rise in temperature,'' Singh told reporters in Rampur in a particularly callous-seeming statement, as the fires this year have been unprecedented and largely considered man-made.

The Uttarakhand High Court also questioned the Uttarakhand state forest department on preparations for controlling the calamity as the blazes ravaged vegetation and wildlife. The state is currently under President's rule.

The practice of creating fire breaks has been in abeyance since the 1970s.

''The situation in Uttarakhand is completely under control. I can assure you that there is nothing to worry," union home minister Rajnath Singh informed the Lok Sabha today. He was responding after the matter was raised by Trinamool Congress member Saugata Ray during Zero Hour.

Meanwhile, there are reports of fire in Thanpal forest area in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir and Kelti village in Shimla.

Earlier, envionment minister Prakash Javadekar hinted that forest fire at some places in Uttarakhand could have been man-made. Four people have been arrested in connection with Uttarakhand forest fires even as Indian Air Force choppers continue the operation to douse the raging flames.

"With combined efforts from various organisations we have managed to control the extent of forest fire. I had followed with the Governor on the issue. Four people have been arrested from Paudi who were trying to set forest on fire," Javadekar said.

Despite the fire being contained in several parts of the hill state, the blaze is now spreading outside Uttarakhand and entering Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Read?|?Nature's act or foul play? 5 burning questions on Uttarakhand fires

Officials reported 378 incidents of fire in grasslands and forests, mainly in the low hills, which has destroyed flora and fauna in over 3,000 hectares.

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