The blazing fire that has been engulfing Uttarakhand forests for the past 88 days, reached a school in Himachal Pradesh.
On Monday, a NDTV report stated Pinegrove School in Kasauli had to be evacuated because the fire had touched the walls of the school, and thick smoke blanketed the entire area. The premises had to be evacuated, and the flames were put out in hour, but thick black smoke spread. The school has now decided to remain shut for five days.
The fire had also previously spread close to 169-year old Lawrence School in Sanawar. A senior teacher of the school, R Chauhan said the fire was brought under control and no damage was caused to the 169-year-old residential school.
“The fires 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 Uttarakhand is still busy battling the massive wildfire, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Lok Sabha denied that there were any casualties. Union Home Minister’s comment came at a time when reports have pegged the death count due to the devastating fire at 7.
The fire is said to have destroyed almost 3,000 hectares of forest cover. On Tuesday, MoEF Prakash Javadekar was quoted as saying that the fire will be doused in two days. “There were fires at more than 1,200 places earlier. Today it is in less than 60 places.”
The Union Home Ministry stated that about 6,000 personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), state police, forest staff and volunteers were deployed. Javadekar told reporters on 2 May four people were arrested on 1 May trying to ignite fire in Pauri, and an enquiry into the same will take place.
Rs 5 crore has been allotted for firefighting efforts in Uttarakhand, added Javadekar.
Speculations are rife the fires weren’t caused entirely naturally, giving wind to rumors about the fire being set off for gains of certain sections.
“The fires are set off usually by locals who want to conceal illegal tree cutting,” a divisional forest officer told The Wire. “Usually the forests stop burning after a point. This year, it’s different, and uncontrollable.”
It has also been alleged that the timber mafia had a hand in it. According to a TOI report, dead or dry trees are sold via auction by the corporation, guaranteeing them income and benefitting the timber mafia as well. The land thus cleared can be sold in land transfer cases, which benefits builders as well.
The fires, on a smaller scale, are an annual phenomenon, and some areas have also been mapped out by Uttarakhand’s Forest Department.
Forest departments employ various types of firefighting techniques. Which include maintaining fire lines, beating the fire, and spraying water or carbon-dioxide to douse the flames.
Possible impact of the forest fire
A Times of India report stated the fires can melt Uttarakhand’s glaciers quicker than before, and could have a devastating impact as the glaciers are lifelines of major rivers flowing across North India. It can also have a detrimental effect on the monsoons due to the change in temperature.
Uttarakhand tourism has taken a beating, which has also become a cause for concern amongst those whose livelihoods are dependent on tourism. According to a report by The News Minute, locals believe that issue has been blown out of proportion by the media.
With inputs from agencies