Forest fires have caused havoc across KP last summer

Anwar Zeb

Forests across the country have started to burn with the advent of summer.  First Baluchistan forests were on and now these fires are headed to KP, where forests fire incidents have been reported in Buner, Shangla and Swat.

These fires have caused widespread destruction as administration failed to put down the blazes on time allowing them to consume thousands of trees, wild animals and birds.

Arshad Ali Khan,  a district forest officer Buner said that there several fire incidents were reported from the district; however, with the exception of one or two, most of them have been put down successfully.

Mr Khan said blamed the carelessness of locals for the blazes. He said that prior to the monsoon rains, locals set the grassy areas near and inside forests in hope of growing better grass as such places grow good quality grass during monsoon rains.

However, he added many a times, such fires spread uncontrollably and spreading widespread destruction.

Forest fires data from the Buner district showed that over past 10 days, blazes were reported from Gokand, Elum. Dokada, Tanta, Mandhr, Tangora and several other areas.

Forest department said that it has registered FIR against a resident of Dokada while action has also been taken against four other locals.

A research study titled Forests Fire in Swat which appeared in Pak Journal of Plants Sciences in 2009 stated during 1993-2000, at least 20 incidents of forest fires were reported in Swat district.

It said that in all the cases, the fires were started by the locals. The research said that 50 per cent were of blazes were deliberate and started in hope of growing better grass.

The study said that those behind the fires were known in at least eight cases; however, only one accused was punished.

DFO Buner said that the forest fires start with the advent of summer and it requires too many resources for controlling them.

“We require large workforce to put down the blazes and at times it is very difficult to pinpoint the accused setting the fire,” he said.  In many cases, it becomes very difficult to ascertain that how the blaze started and who was responsible for it.

Besides, he said that at times lightening also causes forest fires. However, he added that in such a situation, the chances of rapid spread are slim as rain douses the flames.

He said that five lightening incidents were reported from Buner in April this year alone; however, there were little damages.

On the other hand, locals also agree with the forest department.

They said that the grass growing in early spring dries up by May and locals set this dry grass on fire. Besides, they said that sometimes such fires spread to large area and causing heavy damages.

They said that after burning down the dry grass, new grass sprung up during monsoon rains, which locals store as animal fodder for winters. “Grass yield increases many fold from burnt down patch of dry grass,” a local said.

Abrar Hussain, a KP forest department official said that forest fires cause huge damages to the biodiversity. He said that on many instances, the fire starts during breeding season, forcing birds to leave behind their eggs and nestlings behind.

“Many of the birds are also killed due to fire and suffocation,” he said, adding that the surviving birds also face food shortages as fires ravages their source of food including fruit trees and insects.

Besides, he added that the forest fires in Buner and neighboring areas have also led to decline in the Himalayan goral population.

Besides, partridges and common quail which could not fly very high also suffer greatly due to the forest fires.

Forest department has also setup fire lines in the region’s Mountains and forests to immediately control fire; however, when blazes spread to dense forests, it becomes very difficult to put it down even with fire line.

Abrar said that many a times, picnickers also cause fires; therefore, he asked the tourists to take necessary precautions while preparing their food at such places. “They should check for dry grass and leaves and also properly put down the fire before leaving the place,” he said.

Environmentalists also point that threat of forest fires increases many fold during summer as grass and plants dry up due to drought. In addition to this, fallen dry leaves also cause lead to spread of fire,” he said.

Afsar Khan, deputy director Climate Change and Environmental Protection Agency, said that forests have recorded considerable growth over past few years due to the Billion Tree Tsunami campaign.

However, he added that promises made to the developing countries under the Paris Agreement were not made.

He said that Pakistan government should take up the issue of this issue developed countries.

Regarding forest fires he said to control the blazes, they required technology and training which was non-existent.

Mr Khan said that forest fires were causing massive damages every year. He said that Pakistan should receive firefighting machinery and training under the Paris Agreement to minimize damages from forest fires.

He said that trees which produced oxygen were crucial for the life on the planet and fires were dealing serious blow to the biodiversity of the planet.

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