Rain partly douses Himachal forest fire; 3,500 hectares ravaged

Shimla, May 3 (IANS) Rain in Shimla and nearby areas in Himachal Pradesh on Tuesday doused forest fires to some extent but the blaze was still raging in some pockets and destroyed flora and fauna in over 3,500 hectares, forest officials said. There was, however, no loss of life.

As many as 573 incidents of fire have been reported so far.

A major relief is in store as the weather department has forecast widespread rain and thundershowers in the state till May 5.

“Shimla and its nearby areas received rain today (Tuesday) and this helped douse the forest fires. Our teams are working day and night across the state to control the fire,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests S.P. Vasudeva told IANS.

He said the main reason for the sudden rise in forest fires was mainly the abnormal rise in temperatures.

However, there was no report of any major forest fire in the state as in the neighbouring hill state of Uttarakhand, he said.

“Most of the fires are ground fires. As per our estimates, forest wealth of Rs.30-40 lakh has been gutted,” Vasudeva said.

Forest officials said most forest fires were deliberate acts. The villagers also tend to set grasslands afire to get softer grass after the rains. In most cases, the fire from grasslands spreads to nearby forests.

The dry and hot conditions has caused fires in the mid and lower hill areas, particularly the pine forests. An unusually large number of fires have been reported from various districts, except tribal Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti districts.

Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office here, said: “The mercury plummeted sharply after moderate rain in Shimla on Tuesday. The maximum temperature was 24 degrees Celsius against Monday’s 29.8 degrees.”

He said rain and thundershowers are likely to occur over mid and low hills of the state in the next two days.

In 2015-16, a total of 671 fire incidents had destroyed 5,733 hectares of forests.

The worst was in 2012-13 when 1,798 fire incidents were reported and forest wealth on 20,763 hectares was destroyed.

Billowing smoke from the hills of Shimla, Kasauli, Chail, Dharampur, Bilaspur and Nahan towns have become common these days.

“All villagers are trying to douse fires in the nearby forests for the past two days. Now this rain has helped control its further spread,” C.D. Verma from Jubbarhatti village on the outskirts of Shimla told IANS over phone.

He said the fire has caused damage to wildlife, including breeding pairs of birds like the red jungle fowl.

Shimla and its surrounding hills support wild mammals like jackal, red fox, leopard cat, leopard, blue bull and wild boar, as well as reptiles like rat snake, cobra, Russell’s viper, common krait, python and monitor lizard.

Another villager Ramesh Chand said the long-awaited rains seemed to be the beginning of the end of the forest fires.

Forest fires on Monday also threatened the existence of the world heritage Kalka-Shimla rail line at several points near Dharampur town, 65 km from here.

“Rail traffic was normal today (Tuesday),” Shimla’s station superintendent Sanjay Gera said.

The Kalka-Shimla rail track was built by the British in 1903 to ferry Europeans to and from this hill town, the erstwhile summer capital of British India. It was included in the Unesco list of world heritage sites in 2008.

According to official records, 66 percent of the Himalayan state is under forest cover.

The lush green valleys and snow-capped mountains of the state are home to 36 percent of India’s species of birds. Of the 1,228 species reported in India, 447 have been recorded in Himachal.

Similarly, 77 species of mammals have been recorded by the Himachal State Council for Science, Technology and Environment.

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