HARIPUR/MANSEHRA: Wildfires have ravaged forests on hundreds of acres of land in Haripur and Mansehra districts with strong winds fanning the flames to engulf more areas.

Trees standing on hundreds of acres of forestland in hilly area of Makhniyal in Khanpur tehsil of Haripur have been destroyed, local people told Dawn on Sunday.

“Hundreds of mature trees and small plants in 70 per cent forested area – both reserved and private – have been reduced to ashes. The fires are still raging and will destroy more trees if emergency measures are not taken to put out the blaze,” Mateen Abbasi, a youth councillor from Neelan Bhoto village council, said.

He said the fire started four days ago in his area and was still wreaking havoc, burning down both reserved and guzara (private) forests.

He said Khariyan, Banth, Ariyala and couple of other forested areas were still on fire as volunteers tried in vain to put out the flames because of strong winds.

Fayaz Mughal, an office-bearer of Makhniyal Tahfuz Movement, said the fire had started from compartment 11 and 12 of Pakshahi forest and engulfed the entire area. He said despite repeated messages to deputy commissioner, assistant commissioner, Khanpur, and forest department officials, no effective steps were taken to put out the blaze. He said 80 per cent of the forested area in Hally, Muslim Abad, Barkot and Neelan Bhoto village councils had been on fire for last four days.

Malik Amjad, another office-bearer of the movement, said the wildfire had destroyed majority of forested area in Dana Feroz, Komal Gali, Makhniyal, Pir Sohava and Khariyan forested areas. Meanwhile, Makhniyal sub-divisional forest officer Zohaib Khan said the fire had started from an unknown point in the Margalla Hills of Islamabad on Friday and spread to forests of Haripur due to heavy winds.

He said there were only 50 officials and volunteers engaged in putting out the inferno. However, he said staff and volunteers were struggling to put out the fire.

He claimed there was no damage to matured pine trees in the reserved forests. He said new trees in 10 to 15 hectares were destroyed.

In Mansehra, wildfires have destroyed a large number of trees in forests across the district.

The local people accused the forest officials of triggering the fires to cover up any traces of the illegally-cut trees.

A Rescue 1122 statement issued on Sunday said its firefighters had managed to put out blazes in forests in Mansehra tehsil and its suburbs. It further said fires in hilly areas, where its vehicles couldn’t be moved, were put out through traditional means.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2022

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