Forest fires rage across Uttarakhand, 6 dead; NDRF deployed

Dehradun: Major forest fires raged on Saturday across Uttarakhand even as three teams of NDRF were deployed in Almora, Gauchar and Pauri and one team of SDRF in Nainital to extinguish the flames.

Since the beginning of forest fire incidents in the state in early February this year, 922 incidents have occurred so far killing six people including three women and a child, in separate incidents, injuring seven and blighting 1890.79 hectares of green cover, Principal Conservator of Forest (Research) B P Gupta told PTI.

Rudraprayag forest division is taking the army's help for fire-fighting operations especially along the highways, Gupta said. Chamoli, Pauri, Rudraprayag, Tehri, Uttarkashi, Pithoragarh, Almora and Nainital are the worst-affected districts, he said.

The casualties due to forest fires which have spread to sparsely-populated remote hill areas, rose to six with another life lost in Nainital district on Friday evening. 1890.79 hectares of green cover have been destroyed by the fires which had an early start on February 2 this year due to a dry winter.

Governor K K Paul reviewed the rescue efforts underway via videoconferencing with officials in the field and asked them to speed up their efforts. NDRF companies, assisted by expert teams and locals, are conducting fire-fighting and rescue operations in Garhwal and Kumaon regions. IG Sanjay Gunjyal is cordinating with NDRF, District Magistrates concerned and the Principal Conservator of Forest to supervise the rescue operations.

Locals are being encouraged to report a fire incident to the District Magistrate concerned as soon as they see it so that it can be controlled in time. The Governor has doubled the number of personnel deployed to control the fires from 3000 to 6000 and asked all agencies including SDRF, district administration and the rural population to contribute their bits in the exercise saying the forest department alone cannot accomplish the onerous task, Gupta said.

Forest fires are a natural phenomena in summer but this time they have occurred on a bigger scale as the fire season which normally begins by February 15 and ends by June 15 began on February 2 itself.

Former chief minister Harish Rawat has asked the Governor to declare Uttarakhand as a fire disaster struck state and involve locals as much as possible in fire-extinguishing efforts. Pradesh Congress president Kishore Upadhyay has also written to party workers asking them to work unitedly to pull the state out of the 'crisis.'

The PCF said the scale of forest fires in Uttarakhand this time has been bigger due to little or no rain during winter at most places. Pre-fire alerts listing possible fire points over the next seven days in forest areas is being made available on forest department's website www.forest.uk. govt, an official release here said.

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