Forest fires in Chuzom and Wangdue yet to be contained

The country has suffered seven forest fires in the past five days

Fire: As of last night, the forest fire that began at Chuzom two days ago was still burning uncontrollably and spreading towards the villages of Tsiphu, also called Jangwalo, in Paro and Khariphu in Thimphu.

A forest official said that if the fire is not contained by today, the two villages would be in danger.

The Chuzom fire that was sparked by a short circuit on a transmission line on February 15, has so far destroyed more than a thousand acres, according to early estimates.

Around 300 firefighters, which included personnel of army, police, forest department, Desuung, and volunteers began containment efforts by 5:30am  yesterday but efforts were suspended by around 3:30pm as a result of strong winds.

In safe hands: foresters and Dessups saved a fawn yesterday from the fire.  Photo Sangay Khandu (NC member)

In safe hands: foresters and Dessups saved a fawn yesterday from the fire.
Photo Sangay Khandu (NC member)

The government’s helicopter also made 10 sorties over the Chuzom fire, dumping around 7,000 litres of water in 46 minutes.

The forestry official said that while initial sorties were helpful, by the time the wind strengthened the helicopter’s drops were largely ineffective. Firefighters on the ground also said that the helicopter made little impact.

Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services (RBHS) CEO, Chhewang Gyeltshen said that a number of conditions limited the helicopter’s effectiveness such as the large distance between the fire and the water refilling area. Other conditions included the narrowness of the valley, unmarked wires, strong winds, and the large area of the fire.

Without motor road access, firefighters are taking up to two to three hours to reach the fire on the Thimphu side. It is taking firefighters between half an hour to an hour to reach the fire on the Paro side.

As a result, firefighters are facing logistical challenges. “We can’t provide anything,” a forestry official said.

The forest fire that burned overnight had mostly spread to inaccessible rugged terrain by yesterday, posing another challenge to firefighters.

Chances are very slim that the forest fire will burn out naturally given the abundance of dry grasses, and fuel wood in the area, said the forestry official. The official added that the only way to extinguish the fire is through human intervention.

Chances of containing the fire today are better. More than 300 firefighters, with reinforcements coming from the army, will have been deployed early this morning. The fire is also expected to reach more accessible terrain by today.

Haa fire

Around 100 acres was destroyed by another forest fire in Puduna, Samar gewog in Haa, yesterday.

The fire, which was contained by around 4:30pm, began after it spread from a field being burned to clear dry grass for cultivation. The person responsible has been handed over to the forest department.

Around 300 firefighters including armed forces personnel, Desuups, students and volunteers, fought the fire which began at around 11:30am, according to the Samar gup, Tshewang Tandin,

With the Haa chhu located close to the fire, the government’s helicopter contributed significantly in aiding to keep the fire contained.

It made a total of 36 sorties over the fire dropping around 25,200 litres of water. It spent a little over two hours fighting the fire.

According to RBHS, Haa police successfully enforced a cordon around the refilling area to keep spectators at a safe distance.

 

Wangdue fire

A second forest fire broke out at around 2:15pm in Zawa in Athang gewog.

The fire, which has already destroyed more than 500 acres, could not be contained as of last night.

The Athang gup, Khandu Dorji, said between 60-70 people were fighting the fire, including the dzongda and dzongrab. Other firefighters included armed forces, forest department personnel, local residents, and Desuups.

The cause of the fire is unknown but reports say it broke out while work on an irrigation channel was ongoing.

The site of the fire is located around 23km away from the highway, however, Zawa is also connected with a farm road.

The government’s helicopter could not be dispatched to the area, yesterday.

7 forest fires in 5 days

Around 2,000 acres of forests has been razed in the past five days.

On February 12, three forest fires occurred in Thimphu: at Dechenphu, Taba, and Sangaygang. The Sangaygang fire is suspected to have been caused by a discarded cigarette butt at a popular dating spot.

A fourth fire in Thimphu, caused by minors playing with matches, destroyed a tree sapling plantation in Samarzingkha on February 13.

An electrical short circuit lit the Chuzom fire on February 15, which continued to burn as two more forest fires broke out in Haa and Wangdue, yesterday.

So far, one firefighter has suffered a fracture after falling off a cliff during the Sangaygang fire. No other casualties have been reported.

In the last five years, 216 fire incidences were recorded across the country, according to the agriculture ministry. This has damaged about 950,351 acres of forest.

Gyalsten K Dorji

Additional reporting by Kelzang Wangchuk from Chuzom, Yeshey Dema in Thimphu, and Dawa Gyelmo in Wangdue. 

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