Forest fires claim another life in Uttarakhand — 4th casualty in 3 days; jungles across state burning, over 1100 ha gutted | India News

DEHRADUN: Incidents of raging forest fire continued in several parts of Uttarakhand on Sunday, halting the Adi Kailash helicopter darshan service for the second day in a row and also putting a stop to flight arrivals to the Naini-Saini airport in Pithoragarh because of low visibility due to fire-induced haze.
The chopper service had started last month to offer pilgrims an aerial darshan of the Adi Kailash and Om Parvat peaks.The fires also reached the Dunagiri temple, a prominent shrine in Almora district on Sunday. The approach passage to the shrine, lined with bells, was engulfed by the blaze, forcing pilgrims to flee from the shrine.
Forest officials attributed the rapid spread of the fire to strong winds that transformed it into a “crown fire”. Priests and the forest department team quickly helped pilgrims reach to safety and no casualties were reported.
In Chamoli district, the blaze engulfed a large kiwi orchard. Raging fires on hilltops in parts of Garhwal region like Rudraprayag and Chamoli were also reported on Sunday. Forest officials said that about 910 incidents of forest fire have been reported since Nov 1 last year, when the blaze was first reported in the state, destroying over 1,144 hectares of forest land.
The fires have been raging for almost six months now, not unlike the California wildfires. Maximum 482 incidents have taken place in Kumaon division, which has been the worst-affected area.
The wildfires have resulted in the deaths of five persons so far, with a 28-year-old woman labourer of Nepalese origin being the latest fatality. The victim, identified by her first name, Puja, 28, was grievously injured while trying to douse a forest fire near a pine resin factory in Almora district three days ago. She succumbed to burn injuries on Saturday. Her husband and two others had died last week while battling the same fire.
The fires have also impacted tourism activities, putting a question mark on trekking and mountaineering trips in Kumaon region, with many groups who were planning such trips now unsure whether to go ahead. “Normally, the trekking season starts after May 10 in the Kumaon region. We’re hoping that wildfires will be controlled by then. If not, we’re going to have to issue an advisory for visitors,” said Kirti Arya, district tourism officer, Pithoragarh.
Locals said that the fires had left in their wake a trail of ash dust everywhere. “There are a few places in the road from Haldwani where rocks have fallen and there are landslides due to the fires. We are seeing the hills burning at night and in daytime, the smoke prevents visibility. It’s almost like an apocalypse,” said a resident of Mukteshwar.
Officials say that forest fire incidents in Uttarakhand are due to various factors, mainly attributed to human activities. They added that locals sometimes ignite grasslands to clear areas for agriculture or livestock grazing, inadvertently sparking larger wildfires. Besides, the loss of soil moisture due to scanty rainfall this pre-monsoon season and presence of the dry leaves, pine needles and other flammable substances present in the forest have also contributed to such incidents, the officials pointed out.
Additional chief conservator of forests, Nishant Verma, who is the nodal officer of forest fires in the state, said that in the last 24 hours, about 24 incidents of fire spreading across 36.5 hectares of forest lands were reported, adding, “this includes 22 incidents from Kumaon division alone.”
Notably, raging fires had reached close to the Nainital city last month, when the Indian Air Force was engaged in firefighting operations. Forest areas in parts of Nainital, Haldwani and Ramnagar forest divisions were the worst affected. In some of these areas, the fires were doused with the help of Mi-17 choppers.

Adi Kailash heli-darshan, Pithoragarh flights suspended due to fire-induced haze; blaze engulfs prominent temple in Almora, trekking activities impacted

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