PESHAWAR: Keeping in view the frequent incidents of forest fire in recent past, the provincial forestry, environment and wildlife department has framed standard operating procedures to prevent such mishaps in future.

The government through a notification has constituted divisional Forest Fire Management Team (FFMT) headed by relevant commissioners and all stakeholders. Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, according to official documents, has already notified these SOPs.

Under the SOPs, the FFMT has been empowered to map vulnerabilities in advance, formally assign responsibilities to relevant departments and take punitive measures against culprits involved in forest fire.

The forest department will carry out fire lines in the designated forests aimed at containing the fire if erupted and minimise losses. The SOPs state that Rescue 1122 would support the fire fighting setup and FFMT has been empowered to impose Section 144 between May and September to ban all types of fireworks and campfire.

Besides creating awareness, buffer zones will also be set up in forest covered areas

The FFMT would also establish buffer zones in forest covered areas under which grass will be removed. In addition, awareness campaign would be carried out among the communities regarding FFMT.

Officials said that before framing the set of SOPs, the forest department purchased fire fighting machines, fireproof uniforms for forest guards, and other equipment to be used for fire extinguishing. They said that the equipment had been provided to relevant district forest officers of Buner, Abbottabad, Chitral and Swat.

The chief conservators of all three divisions (Malakand, Hazara and Southern Region) have been directed to plan fire lines in advance and carry out wide publicity to create awareness among the local communities as well as general public.

It is pertinent to mention here that forest department had informed the provincial assembly recently that the forests spread over an area of 815 acres were gutted in different fire incidents in the year 2019-20. The department had stated that 12 districts in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had recorded 58 incidents of forest fire during 2019-20.

According to the department, Buner district was the worst affected by forest blazes, where 19 such incidents were reported during the period and 289.5 acres of forests were reduced to ashes. Nowshera in the Peshawar forest division reported destruction of forests over 155 acres of land by fire in two incidents.

The blazes destroyed forests over 126 acres at four sites in Madyan area of Swat district and 85 acres in Mardan in 13 incidents.

Also, Haripur district witnessed the forest losses over an area of 40 acres, Kohistan 27 acres, Abbottabad 24 acres, Swabi 35 acres, Bajaur 17 acres, Upper Dir 10 acres, Malakand five acres and Dir Kohistan one acre.

The SOPs state all chief conservators would deploy rapid response teams, dedicated to fire fighting along with their equipment near the hotspots.

Under the notification, the FFMT shall ensure arrest of culprits responsible for setting forest fire intentionally or due to commission of negligence for legal proceedings under sections 26, 33 and 45 of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Forest Ordinance, 2002.

Keeping in view the difficulties of access and lack of equipment with the forest department, Rescue 1122 may provide its fire-fighters with standard equipment for forest fires in inaccessible and remote areas to back pack fire fighting pumps with water bags, fire rakes, beaters and brooms, pick axe, shovels and fire extinguishers.

Buffer zone of at least 100 metres will be developed and enforced between the construction line and forest. Garbage dumping will be banned near the forest within 500 metres.

The department will also arrange formal fire fighting trainings and drills/mock exercises, both for actual fire-fighters as well as officer managing them.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2022

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