Massive fire has engulfed the dense pine forests near the revered Shri Mata Vaishno Devi (SMVD) shrine in Katra town of Reasi district in the Jammu division.Spread over 10 kilometres, fire started from Banganga ridge on the Trikuta hills and spread quickly to other areas prompting the authorities to shut the helipad for sometime as a precautionary measure to avoid any mishap.SMVD shrine board authorities later requisitioned the Indian Air Force for help to douse the flames. Indian Air Force has pressed two choppers into service which are fetching water from the Salal dam in Reasi to sprinkle on the affected areas in a bid to douse the flames.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”Fire fighting operations were conducted by the two Mi-17V5 helicopters of the 153 Helicopter Units, Udhampur. Till 2.30 pm the helicopters conducted five sorties using Bambi Bucket. Over 18,000 litres of water was dispensed (to douse the flames)”, Colonel SD Goswami, defence spokesman at Northern Command, told dna.Police said the yatra however, remained unaffected and pilgrims had dharshan at the holy cave shrine without any hassles as the fire was controlled to a large extent.”It was a natural fire which broke out yesterday in the 10 kilometer area. Yatra, Yatries and chopper services remained unaffected. Fire has been controlled at the areas near the public places. Smoke is billowing from few places on the upper ridges. IAF choppers are sprinkling water to control the fire,” Sujit Kumar, senior superintendent of police, Reasi, told dna.Experts said the reasons for the fire could be either man made or natural given the prevailing heat wave in the area.”When pine needles fall from the trees it creates a carpet like layer on the ground. A small spark by a cigarette bit can cause massive fires. Another reason could be that in the scorching heat, the stones start rolling down which sometimes create sparks. This too ignites the forest fire,” said Mohinder Singh, deputy director of Forest Protection Force (FPF).Located at the altitude of 5,200 feet in the Tirukta hills, the shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is one of the holiest pilgrimage places in Indian sub continent. The pilgrims have to trek around 12 kilometres from the base camp to the Holy cave.Millions of devotees visit the shrine every year to perform puja at the sanctum sanctorum. Official data reveal 77.76 pilgrims visited the shrine in 2014 against 78.03 lakh in 2014. Around 93.24 lakh pilgrims visited the shrine in 2013.”We have controlled the fire to a large extent. There has been no damage to the life or property. The chopper operations at the helipad has also resumed,” said Jagdish Singh, sub divisional magistrate at SMVD.
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