With seven forest fire incidents in the last five days since Losar, it has been a busy start to the New Year for forestry officials and others who are engaged in battling the flames. This is the fire season and we can expect many more.
Fighting fires is difficult in Bhutan. Besides the lack of technology, the rugged terrain plays into the hands of the fire. The perfect ground made by dry and brittle undergrowth and fierce winds that most part of the country experience around this time is not helping either.
The helicopter has come to the rescue in two major incidents in Thimphu, but there is only so much a single helicopter can do. Factors like wind, light and availability of deep water restrain operations.
While the fire incidents have come one after another in the last few days, we are all too familiar with forest fires that have threatened thousands of acres of our forests and environment, property and settlements. We have seen, over the years, several measures the government has taken from preventive policies to ground actions like firebreaks on the hills.
We know what causes forest fires. The most common ones are burning debris in orchards, unattended fires whether in the forest or on the roadside, children playing with matches, electric short circuits and so on. Natural causes like rolling stones or lightening also cause fire, but it is rare. We know fighting forest fires is a tedious job and we know now it will cost the government excluding the cost on the environment.
The good thing is that the most common causes can be prevented. If children are reminded to be careful, debris is not burnt or fires are put off after being utilized, the chances will be less. This is not happening.
When the fire subsides, it is time to look for practical preventive measures. The fines for burning thousands of trees would amount to millions of ngultrums, not many can afford it. Locking them up in prisons will not prevent fire. What we need is what will work.
We need contingency plans. Forest fire happens mostly during the winter months and early spring. There should be a plan. On the preventive front, we could have our resups (fire sentinel) back. Their job is to keep watch and report the first sign of fire. Our traditional wisdom says to douse the fire when it is small. Resups can make this happen.
To help foresters, Desuups and the armed forces, we could enlist the help of young people who are thronging the towns and are mere spectators when fires happen. We have a sense of volunteerism. It is lacking because there is no coordination. 500 young men and women identified every winter, even on some remuneration, could save the government money and the environment.
The best plan however is being responsible citizens and trying to prevent disasters like forest fires. The Prime Minister has urged the people to be extra careful and vigilant at this time of the year. It would be a great service to the country, if each one of takes responsibility of preventing forest fires.