Forest fire cause havoc in Trashigang

Firefighters were fighting the blaze late into the night 

Disaster: An automobile workshop and three temporary structures below the Trashigang fuel depot in Kheri were completely razed to the ground by a massive forest fire yesterday.

Besides, the forest fire consumed more than 100 acres of chirpine vegetation across Chenari, Kheri, Rangsikhar, Norzinthang and Phongshing area as of yesterday. The fire is yet to be contained.

Started around 1pm yesterday, the forest fire is believed to be the continuation of another minor forest fire that occurred on Sunday in Chenari, about seven kilometers from Trashigang.

On Sunday, an electric spark following a short circuit of a Bhutan Power Corporation’s transformer is suspected to have started the forest fire towards the afternoon, according to forestry officials.

“It seems the forest fire was not completely extinguished in some inaccessible areas on Sunday. Yesterday’s strong winds could have reignited the flame,” Sr. Forester Tandin Jamtsho said.

By 2pm, the fire had rapidly spread upwards to Trashigang Rabdey’s integrated farm in the west and the automobile workshop area in the east. Panic set in as the fire came very close to burning down the fuel depot. By then, the automobile workshop was burned to ashes.

“The fire came very close to the office and burned Mobil (lubricant) boxes that were stacked in the store. Fortunately, we could extinguish it in time,” an employee with the fuel depot said.

By 3pm, movement of vehicles along the highway was suspended for safety reasons. The fire was spreading towards the town.

Hundreds of people including forest officials, police, civil servants, dessups and local volunteers were seen fighting the fire from all directions. Fire fighters were deployed, fire lines were created and people were manually slapping the fire with tree branches.

By 4pm, the priority was shifted to stop the fire that was headed towards Trashigang Dzong. The fire had then started spreading in all directions.

“We couldn’t even start backfires to stop the fire towards dzong side since the wind was blowing in the same direction. The only option was to create fire lines,” Tandin Jamtsho said.

As the fire affected areas didn’t experience forest fires for more than five years, he said the fire was spreading at a rapid pace.

“Fueled by the strong winds, the crown fires were rapidly spreading from ridge to ridge. The broad-leaved vegetation did help control the pace in some areas,” he said.

The mission continued beyond dusk into the night but the fire couldn’t be contained. Given the steep terrain, forestry officials said it became difficult to control the fire spreading towards the town.

Although no casualties were reported, the owner of the automobile workshop and his tenants lost almost everything to the fire. One of the tenants was running a canteen.

“By the time we realized the threat from the fire, it was too late to do anything. I lost spare parts and machines worth millions to the fire,” Tobgay, the workshop owner said. “The reaction from the police was also late. Otherwise, the forest fire could have been extinguished at the source.”

The canteen owner, Choden could only retrieve a refrigerator. She lost goods and belongings worth Nu 0.5M to the fire. A DCM truck parked at the fuel depot was also partially burned.

Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang

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