Forest fires ravage Kashmir’s green canopy

Baramulla/ Ganderbal/ Sopore, Jan 10: Ravaging infernos are relentlessly consuming the green gold, leaving behind a trail of destruction.

In recent years, these fires exacerbated by the nefarious activities of timber smugglers have besieged Kashmir forests.

Tragically, the absence of swift firefighting measures and the dearth of advanced equipment and techniques have taken a heavy toll on the treasured green wealth.

Thousands of trees, including tender saplings of indigenous herbs and shrubs, across the length and breadth of north, south, and central Kashmir were destroyed in several forest fires.

In the face of these calamities, the officials of the Forest Department stand as the last line of defence, often braving the flames without the necessary safety gear, underscoring the urgency for modernised firefighting resources.

The challenges loom large as remote forested terrains bear the brunt of these blazes.

The Forest Department’s response, though valiant, often arrives after prolonged delays, impeded by the sheer inaccessibility of these rugged landscapes.

The relentless dry spells serve as an accomplice to the surge in these fiery outbreaks, exacerbating the plight of these majestic woodlands, and at times its officials sustain injuries.

Voices of concern resonate from all corners, urging the Forest Department to invest in a swift response mechanism, capable of swiftly mobilising manpower and equipped with cutting-edge technology to curb these fire incidents.

Experts delineate the distinct types of forest fires – be they the subterranean, smouldering ground fires or the catastrophic crown fires – that wreak havoc upon the fragile ecosystem, leaving scars that endure for years.

Amidst assurances from the department about their constant vigilance, challenges persist in combating these infernos without access to fire tenders or advanced equipment in the remote wilderness. Resorting primarily to traditional preventive measures like carving fire lines and clearing dry vegetation, the department implores community support in averting such tragedies and safeguarding the environment.

Faizan Arif, a weather expert, paints a concerning picture of the situation, attributing the surge in fires to a concatenation of natural phenomena exacerbated by human oversight.

He advocates for a multifaceted approach, emphasising the need for robust early warning systems, effective firefighting strategies, and community-driven awareness campaigns to foster responsible forest practices.

In the backdrop of these concerns, satellite imagery from NASA FIRMS ominously reveals 25 active spots engulfed in flames across Jammu and Kashmir.

 

FIRE RAGES IN URI FORESTS

Meanwhile, a major fire has been raging in the forest areas of Uri in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district for the past three days, posing a significant threat to the area’s rich biodiversity.

The fire, believed to have been sparked by the prevailing dry spell, has affected vast forested areas, including Salamabad, Limber Kamalkote, and adjacent forest areas near the Line of Control (LoC).

While the fire has caused considerable damage to grass and bushes, officials from the Forest Department and the Army are working to control the flames and minimise harm to the trees.

The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Baramulla, Parvaiz Ahmad told Greater Kashmir that 80 percent of the fire had been contained and the trees remained largely unharmed.

He said that the field staff besides the officials of the Forest Department, Baramulla, were deployed in the area and had been dousing the flames spread over grass and bushes over a vast area.

Ahmad said that since the fire tenders could not reach the area, all the portable fire extinguishing equipment including fire beaters, portable fire extinguishers and other tools had been deployed at the spot to ensure the fire did not spread to other areas.

“Thankfully, there is no major damage reported. We have almost controlled the fire which is mainly on grass and bushes,” he said.

Ahmad attributed the fire’s origin to the extended dry spell and cited agricultural activities as potential contributors.

He said that in such conditions, individuals often set grass afire for use as fertiliser, inadvertently causing wildfires when they leave without properly extinguishing the flames.

Campfires or discarded cigarette butts may also be contributing factors.

The affected areas are not only ecologically sensitive but are also close to the LoC and a nearby wildlife sanctuary.

The Army has been involved in firefighting efforts, with soldiers using fire extinguishers to prevent the further spread of flames.

In response to the escalating situation, the Forest Department has established control rooms at block, range, and district levels.

The department has also issued an advisory urging the residents to exercise caution and adhere to safety measures when venturing into forested areas.

 

Forest Fire Advisory

To prevent future incidents and protect the region’s invaluable natural resources, the Forest Department issued an urgent advisory.

The advisory highlights the heightened risk of forest fires due to dry winter conditions and increased human activity in forested areas, the potential for devastating blazes is significant which could cause loss of life and property, damage to soil fertility, biodiversity, and climate patterns and health hazards.

The advisory urges the residents to: “Avoid open flames and never leave campfires unattended and properly extinguish them before leaving and avoid smoking or throwing cigarette butts in forested areas. Report suspicious activity and inform authorities immediately of any sightings of smoke or potential fire hazards. Adhere to fire restrictions and respect local regulations and prohibitions on open flames and flammable materials near forests. Plan outdoor activities carefully, choose fire-safe locations for picnics and camping, and avoid activities that could spark a fire. Report fires immediately and dial or contact the nearest Forest Department office as soon as a fire is spotted, regardless of size.”

The residents were also encouraged to educate themselves and others about fire prevention measures and spread awareness about the importance of protecting the forests.

 

BLAZES CONTINUE IN SOPORE FORESTS

Meanwhile, in the forests of Sopore in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, a fire broke out in the forest area of Rampora Rajpora Monday afternoon while the employees of the Forest Department were deputed to douse off the flames.

Locals said that the fire which erupted mysteriously in Compartment No 33 and 38 four days before at Rampora Rajpora forests near Sangri Top again erupted and spread to more areas, causing huge damage to the green gold.

“The raging flames can be seen from a distance,” said Irfan Ahmad Reshi, a resident of Rampora Rajpora.

He said that the fire engulfed a large area of the forest in Compartments 33 and 38.

“A large number of trees suffered damage,” he said.

Reshi said that soon after the fire broke out in the area, teams from the Fire and Emergency Department and Forest Department including the Forest Protection Force were on the job to douse the flames.

Meanwhile, officials from the Forest Department, Sopore, also confirmed reports of this fire incident.

They said that the cause of the fire would be ascertained after the flames were brought under control.

This is the second time in five days that a fire mysteriously broke out in Compartment 38.

 

BY Altaf Baba/ Irfan Raina/Ghulam Muhammad

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