Despite attempts, the Mirpur Forest Department has been unable to extinguish the fire that broke out in parts of Kotli and Bhimber districts some days back.
Forest Department Conservator Gohar Rehman told media on Thursday that the department is trying to extinguish the flames with the help of locals; however, he said there are insufficient people for the task.
The conservator said that at present over 2,000 to 3,000 acres of forestland in proximity to populous areas of Mirpur division have been affected by the fire. He added that the department has only 206 forest guards for the 1.084 million acres of Mirpur Division.
Rehman said that forest fires have become common in the summer season, adding that they usually start small after people light grass or waste material and spread quickly. He said that passengers and picnickers throwing combustible materials like cigarettes or matchsticks on roadsides and use of fire-crackers in wedding processions and religious gatherings near shrines aggravates the problem.
“Last year, over 5,000-acre of forests across Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) had come under fire,” said Rehman. He added that the ratio of field staff comprising forest guards against the requirement was a major hurdle to overcome forest fires and timber theft. In Punjab, 400 acres forestland is guarded by a single forest guard, whereas in AJK, a forest guard is assigned to safeguard 800-acre land, he explained.
Rehman suggested that the forest guards in AJK should be doubled to keep a watch over per 400-acre forestland, bringing the ratio of forest guards and forestland at par with that of forests in Punjab. Moreover, he sought the cooperation of locals, urging them to raise awareness about forest fires, especially among those living close to thick forests, and be cautious in adopting preventive measures.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2012.
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