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Uttarakhand: 10,000 men, three IAF choppers engaged in dousing fires

New Delhi:Even as nearly 10,000 people and three IAF helicopters engaged in operations to douse forest fires in Uttarakhand, the neighbouring Himachal Pradesh disclosed on Monday that it had recorded more than 500 cases of forest blaze since April 20.

A four-member central team of experts was constituted on Monday to monitor the incidents. The team, comprising officials from environment ministry, National Institute of Disaster Management, Centre for Fire Explosives, and Fire Services, Delhi, has been asked to submit its report to the ministry of home affairs within one week.

Earlier in the day, Union home minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Uttarakhand Governor K K Paul to take stock of forest fires and assured to continue assistance to the hill state for dousing the blaze.

While the large manpower engaged was able to control fire in some parts of the state, officials indicated that the scale of operations will not be decreased. “Indian Air Force operations continued on Monday in Nainital and Pauri. We have lodged a total of 46 cases till now under the Indian Forest Act, and three persons have been arrested in Nainital,” said DP Gupta, chief conservator of forests.

According to sources in the Indian Air Force, three helicopters, 1 ALH and 2 MI-17 with Bambi bucket were deployed and 30,000 litres of water was dropped to douse fires.

Meanwhile, even Himachal Pradesh has recorded hundreds of forest fires since April 20, with the state experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. In places such as Anandpur Sahib and Bilaspur, temperatures have breached the 40 degree Celsius mark.

“Till 5pm today, we have recorded 519 forest fires across 4,000 hectares but most of them have been extinguished. Like Uttarakhand, the chir pine is abundant in Himachal Pradesh spread across 1,215 square km and they are prone to forest fires. Around 700 personnel have been engaged to put out the fires,” said SP Vasudeva, principal chief conservator of forests, head of forestry force, Himachal Pradesh. Vasudeva added, “We had seen a high number of forest fires even in 2012-13 and this cycle is repeated every 3-4 years. This year, the summer, has been unusually harsh compounding the issue.”

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