People put out fire in a forest in Murree. — Dawn
People put out fire in a forest in Murree. — Dawn

MURREE: Fires have broken out in the Charehan, Bandi Gali and Sanyhoh forests in Murree that have taken forest department workers and Rescue 1122 hours to get under control.

Murree Green Association President Asad Abbasi, who works on raising awareness about forest protection, said that the fire issue is grave and requires urgent attention from the government, otherwise the remaining forests in Murree and their nearby areas will be at risk of fire damage.

He said fire protection committees made up of local notable individuals should be formed to raise awareness about protecting the forests, which are a source of environmental protection and scenic beauty.

Mr Abbasi said that in the past, locals were engaged to help the forest department when fires broke out, but that is no longer the case.

He appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan to take notice of the damage to trees worth billions of rupees, and to provide resources, staff, equipment and vehicles to properly manage forests.

Hafiz Saeed Ahmad, the president of the Rural Areas Development Organisation, said that on the one hand the government claims to plant a billion trees but on the other, has no concrete plan to protect millions of natural trees in forests from fires and the timber mafia.

He said the government must take serious action, by providing fire vehicles and trained staff to protect the forests.

When contacted, District Forest Officer Asad Malik said that the department tried to overcome the fire in Bandi Gali after struggling for hours with the help of limited resources and manpower.

When asked about the Sanyhoh forest fire, he said the forest fell under Guzara forests and not under the forest department. But, the department also helped rescue workers control the fire there.

He said the fire was controlled using manual methods, which took longer, because there were no roads through which vehicles could reach the fire. He said in some far-flung areas it is difficult to even provide firefighters with drinking water, adding that there are only 140 staffers and three vehicles available for more than 45,000 acres of forest land.

In comparison, he said, the Margalla forests of about 4,000 acres have more than 600 watchers and workers to control fires.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2019