Human error: Fire scorches Lower Dir forest

It took firefighters 48 hours to bring blaze under control

Our Correspondents November 09, 2016

LOWER DIR/PESHAWAR: A ferocious forest fire, which was started Monday night and burnt almost all healthy green foliage within the radius of four kilometres, was finally brought under control after 48 hours.

The fire erupted in Talash Valley’s Gumbat Village, housing around 300 families, and was successfully doused in the early hours of Tuesday.

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The fire spread to Shamsi Khan Village – a densely populated area that lies parallel to the village from where the fire had started – after sunrise before being finally put out. Around 1,200 people – mostly schoolchildren, local elders – helped the Dir Lower Forest Department in extinguishing the blaze.

An official of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority said the Lower Dir district government was asked to thoroughly investigate the incident because “forest fires had no precedent in the area”.

Locals with whom The Express Tribune has spoken blamed the district administration for the incident, saying the officials concerned were told of the fire well in advance but “the deputy commissioner and his staff did not heed their request on time”. “The fire did not start immediately,” they said, adding, “Timely action could have saved several animals and trees.”

Deputy Commissioner Irfanullah Wazir did not take phone calls despite repeated attempts.

Officials, privy to the incident, said the district administration had failed to present initial findings even after the lapse of 48 hours.

Another official said that one of the reasons cited by the district administration for the fire was rubbing of animal hoofs against stones that might have ignited sparks, resulting in the fire.

However, Meteorological Department Director Mushtaq Ahman Khan termed the explanation “least plausible”.

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“It was 20 degrees Celsius and there was a lot of dew in the air,” he said, adding, “Pakistan does not have climatic conditions that prevail in Australia where forest fires of this scale are a routine.” “It (the fire) has to be attributed to some kind of human intervention,” Khan said.

According to the PDMA spokesperson, the district administration will present its report on Thursday (tomorrow) after which the cause of the fire could be ascertained.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2016.


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