Shimla grey with smoke plumes as fires burn in forests near it

At 1,172, Himachal Pradesh has already witnessed the highest number of forest fires this season in the whole of India

Plumes of smoke over Shimla. Photo: Rohit Prashar

Shimla, the erstwhile summer capital of British India and Queen of the Hills, has been surrounded by plumes of smoke for quite a few days now, as fires burn furiously in forests surrounding the city.

More than 100 fire incidents have been witnessed in the vicinity of Shimla in the last two weeks. The Himachal Pradesh capital is reporting more than a dozen such fire incidents daily at the moment. These incidents of fire are causing huge damage to wildlife and forest wealth, government and private properties.

On May 29, a massive fire was reported in the Tutikandi area near ​​Shimla.

The Balika Ashram and Wildlife Rescue Centre — both of which are located in the neighbourhood — could only be saved by a joint operation of the fire brigade and more than 50 employees of the forest department.

The inferno happened even as 20 girls were present in the Balika Ashram. As a precautionary measure, they have been shifted to Mashobra.

Fire incidents were also reported on May 30 from Panthaghati, Sankatmochan, Bharari, Tutikandi and Taradevi areas adjacent to the city.

Suresh Bhardwaj, former member of the Legislative Assembly from Shimla, alleged the state government was busy in the Lok Sabha elections and was not making any arrangements to deal with incidents of forest fire.

The Himachal Pradesh government should have taken steps to prevent fires before the fire season started, said Bhardwaj. People not just in Shimla but in the entire state were now being forced to live in fear of their lives due to official negligence, he added.

“A lot of incidents of fire are being seen in Shimla and the arrangements made by the administration to deal with it are just not adequate,” Sanjeev Kumar, affected by a fire that spread in the Kelti area adjacent to Shimla city, said.

Kumar said he, along with other locals, had saved his house with great difficulty from being engulfed in fire.

Apart from urban areas, numerous incidents of forest fire are being reported in Himachal’s rural areas as well.

At 1,172, Himachal Pradesh has already witnessed the highest number of forest fires this season in the whole of India. A whopping 10,000 hectares of land has been damaged, according to data from the Forest Survey of India.

There is a possibility of rain in the city only after June 3, according to the Meteorological Department. Which means that the city and state may report more incidents of forest fires in the coming four days.

The flames and plumes of smoke spiked Shimla’s Air Quality Index (AQI) level to 122 on May 30. Whereas it usually records an AQI level from 40 to 60.

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