Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Burning mountains

I am sitting here on the porch anxiously waiting for Mian to return. It has been two hours since he went off to fight a forest fire. I know there are other people around, I know that two hours is nothing when it comes to fire, I know Mian is a careful and responsible man, but still I worry.

The fire as it was last night. See how it is restricted to the top of the ridge
But back to the fires. The hills around us have been burning for the last several days. Some set accidentally, some 'controlled fires' that weren't, and some lit by embers from other fires.

And still we are lucky. In most areas, forest fires are a sort of Somebody Else's Problem. The villagers believe that it is the forest department's job (which, one may argue, it is) while the forest department has no personnel, equipment, or funds  for anything other than painting 'prevent fire' hoardings (which is also true). The area we live in is different. Right now, there are about 20-30 people trying to control the fire I see in front of me.

Methods for fire prevention are primitive, to put it kindly. A bunch of people go to where the forest is, and stand there in the heat and smoke. Using branches, they beat out embers and the advancing flames. Other people use rakes, sticks, and their bare hands to clear away enough litter to create a sizeable fire line. Their hands and faces are blackened, they inhale smoke, and are cut by thorns. It is hot, thankless work. And so not surprising, perhaps that people don't go to put fires out.

Except here.
The forest fire as it is now, at 5:30 pm. It is daylight, but smoke covers the valley, and I can hear the crackle as it burns

If here, people tend to run towards a fire rather than away from it, it is thanks to the wonderful people at Sonapani. These people have taken it  upon themselves to protect the forest they love. Since the area started burning, they have been out there with rakes and determination. And they do not restrict themselves to the fires that threaten them. The last marathon 18-hour fight was for a forest across the valley. Today, they are here with the Chatola villagers. Bless them.


nadi said...

Bless them. It is heartening to hear that some people still put others above themselves.

Banno said...

The forest fires are a frightening sight. In Garhwal, we saw them almost every other day. Sometimes, a fire burned on for a couple of days, and there seemed to be no discernible action being taken. The forest officers told us this was a regular sight, during some months of the year, when villagers set patches on fire, to encourage new grass. It's great to see the people at Sonapani and your village Chatola making efforts to save the forest. Kudos!