Forest dept falters in preventing fires

Scores of animals, birds & trees perish in two devastating fires in less than 10 days

Qaiser Shirazi June 21, 2024


Despite the forest department’s towering claims and the declaration of a fire season emergency, officials have been unable to control fire incidents in the government forests of Kallar Syedan, Kahuta, and Kotli Sattian, the three hilly tehsils of Rawalpindi.

In the past ten days, these areas have witnessed two devastating fires in government forests, resulting in the death of numerous animals, birds, and their offspring. The fires have driven many wild animals into human settlements as they seek refuge from the blaze.

Locals have been left to fend for themselves, extinguishing fires encroaching on their homes while the flames continue to burn in the government forests of Kotli Sattian and Kahuta. The forest department had declared a fire season from April 15 to July 15, establishing camp offices for all sub-divisional officers in the forests.

Staff leaves were cancelled, and they were equipped with arms, motorcycle talkies, and closed-circuit cameras. However, these measures have proven ineffective in controlling the fires.

The department also announced plans to construct large ponds in all government forests to provide an immediate water source in case of fire. Unfortunately, none of these ponds were completed, and when fires broke out, the lack of preparedness left the department's staff in disarray.

Naeem Sati and Raja Gulfaraz, residents of Kotli Sattian, reported that the fire in the Kotli Sattian government forest raged for three days without any intervention from the forest department.

Many wild animals and birds perished in the fire, and displaced wild animals were seen near human settlements.

It was the local people who ultimately extinguished the fire as it approached their homes.

Another fire occurred in the government forest of Kahuta. Kotli Sattian sub-divisional forest officer attributed the fire to burning cigarettes being carelessly thrown on dry leaves. He stated that all field staff have been instructed to collect and dispose of fallen dry leaves from government forests daily and to cut down dead trees to prevent further incidents.

He claimed that the fire did not cause significant damage.

In response to these fires, the forest department has banned the use of matches or cigarette lighters in the forests. Additionally, bringing gas cylinders for cooking, making tea, or holding barbeques by burning wood has also been prohibited.

Despite these measures, the failure to control the fires and protect the wildlife has drawn criticism.



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