Forest blaze: Centuries-old juniper trees destroyed in fire

Flames controlled, not extinguished; experts say trees were over 500 years old.

Our Correspondent August 08, 2012


A fire that erupted in Rahimabad hills, on the outskirts of Gilgit, last week has destroyed over 150 juniper trees in the area and endangered habitat of the indigenous Markhor, forest authorities said.

A resident, Akbar Shah, who heads a community body called Local Support Organisation (LSO), said that locals tried to extinguish the fire but could not accomplish much without proper equipment.

He said they were later joined by experts from Focus Humanitarian Assistance, World Wide Fund for Nature Pakistan (WWFP) and the forest department, who helped control the flames. “However, the fire still keeps erupting intermittently,” he added.

Shah said the forests reserves in Rahimabad hills are scattered, with each patch of juniper forest spreading over approximately 5 to 10 acres. He said the locals believe the fire erupted accidently by tourists who have been visiting the area.

Though the exact cause of the fire could not be identified, what remains a fact is that locals have been deprived of precious wood and the habitat of indigenous animals, especially Markhor, has been disrupted.

“The juniper forests are the primary habitat for Markhors and losing the forests mean losing their home,” explained Mohammad Zafar, a senior conservationist of WWFP. He said that it takes at least 100 years for a juniper tree to attain maturity. “We have been told that there were trees as old as 500 years old.”

Zafar said that with the trees gone, the now barren slopes of the hills will lead to soil erosion and other environmental repercussions. “One lesson we should learn from this is that the communities should be trained in firefighting and disaster management,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2012.


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