The year began with several massive forest fires, some burning for days.

Following losar, in a span of five days, we had seven forest fires alone.

In Thimphu city, the area below Sangaygang experienced at least three major forest fires.

An estimated 20,000 acres of forest were razed. Millions of Ngultrums was spent in fire fighting efforts.

That time of the year is upon us again.

We are confident that the relevant agencies are gearing up for their forest fire preventive campaigning.

Most forest fires occur because of human carelessness. The common causes are burning of agriculture debris, electric short circuits and children playing with fires.

It is important that besides directly connected agencies like the forest, disaster, and fire departments, among others, our schools are involved in briefing their students on the dos and don’ts of fires before the winter break.

Studies show that forest fire prevention education is most effective when it is taught at a young age. Given the importance we place on the environment, it would make sense to strengthen this education in our schools.

We, the citizens, must also be reminded through either door-to-door campaigning where necessary or through the media, both mainstream and social, on fire safety, especially while burning debris.

It is essential that we are also reminded of the hefty penalties we could endure if our carelessness causes a forest fire.

One of the issues that requires serious focus is occupants of vehicles discarding cigarette butts out the window. Besides discouraging the habit, law enforcers must strictly penalise those guilty of such an offence. Smokers who cause fires by carelessly discarding butts must not only be held accountable but must also be involved in forest fire prevention campaigning as part of their community service.

On the fire fighting front, we now have two helicopters that will be able to help fire fighters on the ground. There were some teething issues last year in terms of coordination between the air and the ground teams. We hope these have been sorted out and that a proper channel of communications has been established.

However, the best measure is preventive so that we do not have to put our fire fighters in harm’s way.