519 forest fires in Himachal, rain may bring relief

As 519 small and big forest fires swept forests in Himachal, the Met Department forecast relief in form of rain.

In Solan, a section of the Kalka-Shimla Mountain Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was partially damaged in the surging fire. This led to suspension of service twice since Sunday before it was restored on Monday evening, according to a report.

Forest Minister Thakur Singh Bharmauri said that the situation was not alarming in Himachal as in neighbouring Uttarakhand. The fire began from the ITI campus at the district headquarters of Sirmaur at Nahan and — due to unusually high temperatures and lack of rain — rapidly spread to a radius of over five kilometres, bringing in its grip large tracts of forest land in Shimla and Solan districts as well.

Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on Monday said that forest fires were not a new phenomenon and that he had been watching them break out since his childhood.

However, a major relief was in store with the state’s weather department forecasting rain on Tuesday. The Met office has predicted rain, thundershowers and a resultant drop in temperatures in the two Himachal and Uttarakhand between May 3 and May 6.

In Uttarakhand, the IAF helicopters and government agencies deployed on duty have stepped up their effort against raging forest fires.

Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued a show-cause notice to the governments of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, asking as to what plans they have to deal with forest fires.

The NGT has sought a reply from the two state governments by next Tuesday, failing which the chief secretaries of both states will be summoned.