Shimla: In spite of moderate rains in some parts of Himachal Pradesh, forest fires continued to rage in the lower hills and 60 more such cases occurred since yesterday.
The total number of ground fires in the state has risen to 614 and about 6,600 hectare area was affected by these fires, Forest Department officials said. However, the rains doused the fires raging in forests in surrounding areas of Kasauli and Shimla and normalcy had been restored.
The prestigious Lawrence School at Sanawar is functioning normally and a spokesman of the school said forest fires were at a distance from the school. "Fires were raging in forests, away from the school, children were safe and normal routine was not disturbed at all," he stressed.
The fire got close to another residential school Pine Grove but it was controlled and children were safe. The school has started normal functioning and there was no cause for worry, the official said. The forest department has stepped up vigil in the forest and "fire watchers" have been asked to remain alert and inform about fires to officials concerned immediately.
The dry pine needles, which are highly inflammable, are being sold to cement plants at Rs 2 per kg and villagers are being encouraged to remove and collect the dry pine needles carpeting the forests, said a spokesman of forest department.
Meanwhile, state BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti has accused the state government of not taking effective steps to "prevent and control" forest fires and demanded a "white paper" on the recent forest fires. "The forests are burning but the government has become a mute spectator and we demand a white paper on forest fire", he said in a statement here.
Satti said it was a matter of grave concern that the forest department did not make any preparations in advance to combat fires in spite of the fact that "forest department had anticipated more fire incidents this year". As per media reports, the government has assessed the loss due to forest fires at Rs 62 lakh but the loss has run into crores and the claims of the government are misleading,he said.
"Not only the forests, but even the orchards, fields, cowsheds and houses in areas adjoining the forests have suffered massive damage," Satti claimed. He also criticised the Irrigation and Public Health Minister for making "misleading" statements that there was no water shortage, and demanded a "white paper" on water supply position in the state.