Nepal, northern India battle worst forest fires in years

 03 May 2016 - 0:00

Nepal, northern India battle worst forest fires in years
Indian residents battle wildfire that broke out in jungle near the northern hill town of Shimla in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh on May 2, 2016. Thousands of labourers backed by water-carrying helicopters were battling to control fires that have killed two people in India's northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, officials said May 1. Fires have swept through more than 1,900 hectares (4,700 acres) of forest but have so far not threatened towns in Uttarakhand which draws tens of thousands of tourists every year, officials and media reports said. AFP

 

By Malini Menon and Gopal Sharma

 

NEW DELHI/KATHMANDU: Nepal and parts of northern India are battling their worst forest fires in years that have devastated thousands of hectares of woodland, killed at least 18 people and sent a pall of smoke across the southern Himalayas that can been seen from space.

In Nepal, 11 people have died while trying to fight fires that have razed 280,000 hectares (692,000 acres) of forest across the country, the worst in six years.

“This year we have experienced a longer spell of dry weather and the temperatures have risen significantly, contributing to the disaster,” Forest Ministry official Krishna Prasad Acharya told Reuters.

The worst forest fires in four years in India’s northern Uttarakhand state have killed at least seven people and disrupted the lives of thousands, an emergency official said on Monday.

The Uttarakhand fires have intensified in the past week, torching more than 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of forest.

Indian Air Force helicopters have been scooping and dumping water from reservoirs in an attempt to douse the flames, but operations were hampered by poor visibility.

A dozen locations, including in Almora, Pauri Garhwal and Chamoli districts, were badly hit, said Anil Shekhawat, a spokesman at the National Disaster Response Force.

“This can be compared with the worst fire of 2012,” Indian Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar said in New Delhi. Four people had been arrested on suspicion of starting forest fires, he added.

The number of reported forest fires has jumped to 1,689 so far this year in Uttarakhand, compared to 207 for the whole of 2015, according to data from the Forest Survey of India.

Forests cover about a quarter of India’s total area.

“The fire is under control and has shown a downward trend in the past two days,” said S. Ramaswamy, additional chief secretary of Uttarakhand.

India typically sees a rise in forest fires as temperatures rise from mid-March until the rainy season begins in June.

(Editing by Douglas Busvine and Nick Macfie)

Reuters