Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
Video Producer: Aastha Gulati
At least 40 incidents of fire across 11 districts in Uttarakhand, and it’s only April! I have lived in Chauras, Srinagar Garhwal for most of my life, but forest fires have frequently been recurring only in the last few years. A couple of months back, around mid-October, I had reported the fire around my locality. The forest has been burning since, over and over again. People would normally assume that those living in the mountains are habituated with fire, but are we really?
Having witnessed several forest fires, I can say that the fires this year are unusual, because we had less rain this season and the winter was extremely dry. The situation will get worse in peak summer months. This should be a wake up call – the Himalayas need saving.
I am a wildlife researcher and for the past seven years, I have been working in the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttarakhand. During my research, I hadn’t witnessed a single forest fire but this year, this part of the state is also burning. Be it reserved forest land or community land, the state government has received reports on fires from everywhere.
To gauge the severity of the situation, I took videos from the same spot on my terrace on 17 March and 1 April. The same patch of land has been burning again and again.
In a forest area a couple of minutes away from my home that I visited on 7 April, I could only see dry forest road covered with ash. The fire started near the human settlement and went up to the forest, having a drastic effect on the entire ecosystem and the condition of animals and plants.
Moreover, the smoke here is toxic and harmful for human health. I have personally faced health issues because of prolonged smoke and decided to leave the town. People around my area are also reporting respiratory illness and burning in their eyes due to the smoke. Health consequences of the fires figure a lot in local conversations, but there is little attention paid to them.
Why Does Uttarakhand Burn?
Besides environmental or natural reasons, there are two other reasons I can propose as a native here. First, accidental reasons, like people who throw small parties or have a bonfire inside the forest and leave the fire unattended, or it can be due to the burning of crops by villagers at the edge of the forest. These accidental reasons can be a cause for a one-time fire.
However, the reasons for periodic fires must be investigated from a human angle. Most of the time there are people who intentionally start a fire for mental satisfaction. People here usually know there is one person responsible but villagers don’t want to disclose it. That person could even be a patient of pyromania, a disorder where the affected sets fire to things deliberately.
Therefore, other than traditional reasons for a forest fire, we need to pay attention to deliberate fires to understand this deep down and remove it from the root. Though the government has additional penalties for miscreants now, people are not aware of it. I believe more awareness and strong punishment is an imperative need. While I have witnessed fires in a tiny part of the Himalayas, there are hundreds of fires in other parts of the state that are burning, and this is the saddest part – it could burn once again.
(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)