School evacuated near Kasauli after panic
School evacuated near Kasauli after panic
While Uttarakhand continues to battle massive forest fires spread across several districts, with at least seven people dead and hundreds of villages destroyed, Himachal Pradesh now faces a similar situation, with damage to 50 hectares of woodland in Shimla in a week. Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh, however, downplayed the fires and said the situation was “fully under control” and “cannot be compared with Uttarakhand”.
There was brief panic among students of a boarding school in Kasauli on Monday as fires in the adjoining districts spread towards the educational institution, that led to an immediate evacuation of the children.
Uttarakhand governor K.K. Paul Monday briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the forest fires, with the latter extending all support from the Centre. President Pranab Mukherjee also shared his concern with the governor and expressed his condolences to families which had lost their relatives in the forest fires. Home minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament the situation was under control and there was no confirmation of any major casualties. Minister of state for environment Prakash Javadekar said 90 per cent of the forest fires in Uttarakhand were under control.
A four-member expert team from the Centre, including Centre for Fire Explosives special director K.C. Wadha and Delhi fire services director G.C. Misra, was also sent to the hill state to monitor the situation as thick smog disrupted the round-the-clock rescue operations by the Indian Air Force, NDRF and other agencies. Two IAF helicopters made nine sorties from Nainital and Pauri on Monday to pour water. NDRF officials said the situation was likely to come under complete control by Tuesday.
“We have extensively brought down the number of locations under fire,” said the officials, adding: “A force of about 10,000 people are working day and night to completely douse the flames.” Additional chief secretary (forests) S. Ramaswamy said in Dehradun that out of 271 incidents of forest fires reported on Monday, 232 were extinguished. The environment minister said the areas hit by the blaze had come down from 1,200 to 60, while four persons were arrested for allegedly igniting fires in Pauri.
The Uttarakhand high court has sought a detailed report from the Union environment and forest ministry on the extent of damage caused by the forest fires in the state.
In Himachal Pradesh, speaking on the fire patches visible in areas like Shimla, Solan, Sirmouri and Kuller districts, chief minister Virbhadra Singh said the forest fires were “not comparable” with those raging in Uttarakhand. “There is nothing unusual in forest fires occurring during summers, but the situation (in Himachal) is not like (that in) Uttarakhand, where IAF helicopters have been pressed into service to douse the fires,” he said. The CM added: “These fires are caused by burning of highly-inflammable dry pine needles, which sometimes occur due to negligence and in some cases villagers deliberately set them on fire to get good crop of grass, used as fodder.”
As many as 378 forest fire incidents have been reported from different parts of Himachal Pradesh this summer. “I have been seeing forest fires in Shimla and surrounding areas since my childhood, and there is nothing unusual and the forest department is fully geared to deal with the situation and people are also cooperative,” Mr Singh said.
In Kasauli, panic gripped Lawrence School, Sanawar, with students running helter skelter after seeing columns of smoke nearing the school complex. The fires were brought under control and no damage was caused to the 169-year-old residential school, said R. Chauhan, a senior teacher of the school. Fire tenders were rushed to the forests which fought the flames for nearly two hours and brought them under control.
“The fires broke out in forests in Kasauli areas due to burning of pine leaves and forests surrounding Sanawar School were also affected but the school complex was fully safe and fires have been extinguished”, said Rakesh Kanwar, deputy commissioner of Solan.
The government on Monday said the number of forest fires in the first four months this year has already crossed last year’s total of such incidents, prompting them to formulate a contingency plan for tackling such a crisis. “Till April 21, a total of 20,667 incidents of forest fires have taken place. In 2015, the total number of forest fire incidents were 15,937,” minister of state for environment Prakash Javadekar said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha. He said this year, 291 forest fires have broken out in Uttarakhand, 2,422 in Chhattisgarh and 2,349 in Orissa. Madhya Pradesh reported 2,238 forest fires this year, against 294 such incidents last year.