Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat on Sunday said that there were 40 incidents of forest fire across four districts of Nainital, Almora, Tehri Garhwal and Pauri Garhwal in the state, that were currently raging, ANI reported. The chief minister’s statement came after he held an emergency meeting with officials of affected areas on the crisis.
Rawat said that around 12,000 forest workers were deployed and 1,300 fire crew stations were set up to douse the flames, adding that the Centre had provided the state with two helicopters.
“We are hoping to douse fire using choppers today,” Rawat said, according to ANI.
Earlier on Sunday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted saying that the Centre had ordered the deployment of National Disaster Response Force and helicopters to tackle the forest fires. He also spoke to Rawat and took stock of the situation.
The authorities sprung to action after incidents of forest fire came to light earlier than usual this year, the Hindustan Times reported. The fires, most of which are usually reported in the months of May and June when temperatures peak, started raging widely this year in March and April itself, forest officials told the newspaper.
Over 1,290 hectares of forest land had already been affected this year, as compared to 172 hectares last year. Four human deaths and seven animal fatalities have also been recorded, according to the Hindustan Times. However, no official data on casualties has yet been released by the government or other official sources.
Lesser rain in the winter months last year and lack of human movement in the forests due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown were reasons behind the forest fires, officials said. They said that due to lack of normal human activity in forests a lot of combustible material, mostly pine needles, got accumulated, leading to the fire incidents.
Number of activists and journalists have been tweeting videos and photos of the fire over the last few days, before the government took cognisance of the matter.