Forest fires, which used to damage green wealth on large scale every year, reduced substantially in 2019 due to several initiatives taken by the state government.
There are over 855 cases of forest fires reported from Himachal Pradesh in 2019 as compared to 2469 cases in 2018.
Around 2631.95 hectares of forest land and 731.76 hectares of plantation were affected by forest fires in 2019 that are common in hills during summers.
Ashok Chauhan, Nodal Officer for Forest Fires with Forest department, said, “This time we formed a forest fire team and deployed 92 home guards in sensitive division with equipments and good vehicles to bring fires under control. We have also conducted 160 workshops with local areas and this resulted in reduction of cases this year.”
Chauhan, who is Conservator Forests, said the department has also initiated awards and cash prizes for individuals and panchayats who come forward to douse the flames and protect natural flora and fauna in the state. “Nevertheless, we cannot stop forest fires but we can minimise it,” he added. Another Forester, Conservator, RK Gupta said over the years, it has been observed that the main origin of forest fires is the private grasslands.
“We definitely need cooperation of the people to tackle the issue. The chirpine forests are not valuable to people as compared to the sacred deodar forests and hence the locals don’t worry more about it. The chir pine forests are fire hardy and no damage is caused to the tree. And if you see the forest after the rainy season you will not believe that it survived the fire,” he said.
He added apart from soaring temperature in summers deliberate fire by locals is a major cause of concern. Fires are often intentionally set to remove the carpet of needle like chir leaves that come in the way of harvesting activities and grass growth for the animal fodder. The department has initiated a mass contact awareness campaign to aware locals, Panchayats and tourists about the damages by the forest fire on ecological resources and wildlife.
The fire department added that they have created well established help lines and control rooms which get regular updates by the field staff regarding fire incidents.
However, people have their own share of complaints.
Surendra Thakur, a local resident who suffered a few burns while dousing the fire, said, “We called the fire department soon after we realised the fire was approaching our houses but no fire brigade or person from the department came to our rescue. We are thankful to god that the fire wasn’t wild and massive otherwise it could have caused fatalities.” “Forests are sacred for the people in Himachal. There is new fire everyday and I can tell not all are natural. These so called educated people, who set fire to these forests for their greed, don’t have an ounce of awareness and love for the nature,” rued Paras Ram, another local.
Setting up fire to the forests is a punishable offence of punishment of 2 years or a fine of Rs 5000 or both.
A study on forest fires reveals that the forest fires not only pollute the air but also erode the soil that might cause landslides and earthquakes and kill millions of flora and fauna including the shelters of hatching birds and many plant and animal species. The black carbon dust emitted during fires deposited on Himalayan glacier can hasten their melting.