Dehradun: Firefighting operations continued on a warfooting in north Indian state of Uttarakhand on Tuesday with three Indian Air Force (IAF) choppers sprinkling water on flaming forests as over 11,000 personnel fought infernos from the ground leading to further decline in the number of active fires.
The IAF helicopters made 16 sorties in Nainital and Pauri to pour water on the blazing jungles.
"The declining trend continues with the number of active fires reduced from yesterday's (Monday) 40 to 26. The number was 70 on Sunday when the choppers began their operations. There were 121 incidents of forest fire today out of which 95 have been controlled," Additional Chief Secretary S. Ramaswamy said briefing the media about the steps being taken to douse the fires.
Noting that the declining trend in the number of active fires is an indication that the strategy adopted to overcome the situation was right, Ramaswamy said over 11 thousand personnel drawn from different government departments and supplemented by the National Disaster Response Force are engaged in the operations.
Nearly 3,466 hectares of forested land has been ravaged by fires in 1,591 incidents since the start of the fire season in February this year.
Four people lost their lives in these incidents.
When told that two more women had been killed in a forest fire incident in Uttarkashi on February 2 this year, Ramswamy did not deny that but said the official records have not taken cognisance of the two casualties as they may have occurred before February 15, which is the official date for the start of the fire season. If these deaths are also included, forest fires have claimed a total of six lives so far.
Apart from the number of active fires getting reduced, another encouraging factor is a spell of light to moderate showers forecast by the weather department for most parts of Uttarakhand beginning from Wednesday evening.
"It will help boost our operations," he said. Asked whether the forest fires had caused panic among tourists planning to visit the hills of Uttarakhand during the peak of summer and the approaching yatra season, he said people were definitely curious to know about the prevailing conditions but they had not cancelled their bookings.
He also appealed to the media to go by the facts and not to file exaggerated reports and scare potential visitors to the state which receives lakhs of devotees from all over the country and abroad during the chardham yatra season scheduled to begin on May 9.
Ramaswamy said security agencies have been asked to deal sternly with people found guilty of starting forest fires, sometimes out of ignorance and sometimes deliberately, to get fresh grass sprouts.
The number of cases registered in such incidents since the start of the fire season stands at 48 with two more added today (on Tuesday), he said.
Asked whether the National Green Tribunal has sought a report from the state on the steps being taken to control forest fires, he said the document is being prepared and will be made available to both NGT and Uttarakhand HIgh Court, which has also demanded a similar report from the state as well as the Centre.
The official also talked about long-term measures being considered in consultation with experts from the Defence Research and Development Organisation(DRDO) to reduce the scale of forest fires in the state, including training and equipping locals to deal with the annual occurrence in a better way.
Rains lashed most parts of Chamoli district on Wednesday evening bringing relief to people who felt showers alone could bring the forest fires under control effectively.
District Magistrate Vinod Kumar Suman said the whole of Chamoli received rains which was bound to help firefighters in Nandadevi national park area and Tharali, among the worst hit by forest fires.
Mori, Bhatwari, Nagaon and Purola in Uttarkashi district also received rains.