Terrain, elements add to forest inferno challenge

Published May 22, 2022
PLUMES of smoke rise from a huge fire that is raging in the olive and pine nut orchards in the Koh-i-Sulaiman range.—Dawn
PLUMES of smoke rise from a huge fire that is raging in the olive and pine nut orchards in the Koh-i-Sulaiman range.—Dawn

QUETTA: A devastating forest fire continued to rage in different parts of the Koh-i-Sulaiman range on Saturday, with officials fearing that it may spread to populated areas.

The army, provincial and federal disaster management authorities and other departments are struggling to douse the flames.

The fire started a week ago after the area was struck by lightning and has since engulfed hundreds of trees dotting the mountain range, home to the world’s largest pine nuts (chilghoza) forest and connects Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

It has now turned into a raging inferno, forcing several residents of nearby villages to move to safer locations. Different species of animals and birds are also under threat.

Balochistan Chief Minister Qudoos Bizenjo, Maulana Wasey and Commander 12 Corps Lt Gen Sarfraz Ali and other officials concerned visited Shirani district and reviewed the situation.

On the occasion, CM Bizenjo announced Rs1 million each for the families of three people who lost their lives and Rs500,000 for each injured. He said the federal government would also announce compensation for the fire victims.

Federal Minister for Housing and Works Maulana Abdul Wasey said Iran had provided a special plane to Pakistan to douse fire and it would start its operation on Sunday (today).

Chief Secretary Balochistan Abdul Aziz Aqili visited Shirani district on Saturday to review the operation carried out to extinguish the fire, which has spread to an area within a seven-kilometre radius from the point of origin.

He said the federal government should seek help from international institutions to launch a massive firefighting exercise.

Commissioner Zhob Bashir Ahmed Bazai, Deputy Commissioner Sherani Ijaz Ahmed and other officials concerned gave a briefing about the measures taken so far to control the fire.

“Special measures are needed to bring the fire under control as it has engulfed large areas of mountains,” Mr Bazai said.

Hot weather, inaccessible terrain

Meanwhile, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement that Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan were providing all-out assistance to local administration in putting out the fire.

Provincial and national disaster management authorities were steering relief efforts and organising firefighting activity, it said.

“Fire is mostly on mountain tops (10,000 feet high) away from population centres but continues to spread due to hot weather, inaccessible nature of the terrain and dry winds; nearest village is approximately eight to 10 kilometres away from the location of the fire,” it said.

However, 10 families residing in isolated houses have been shifted to a medical relief camp established in Manikhawa by FC Balochistan, it added.

An FC wing and two army helicopters, along with local administration and Levies have been employed in firefighting and relief efforts.

One helicopter was being used to drop water and another to drop fireball and fire extinguishing chemicals to put out the fire.

As many as 400 fireballs, 200 fire suits, blankets, tents, mats and fire extinguishing equipment were provided by National Disaster Management Authority through FC Balochistan.

The army has also transported relief equipment from Lahore to Zhob, it added.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2022

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