Margalla fires

Published May 30, 2024

THE Margalla Hills — the sprawling 12,605-hectare national park — were once again engulfed in flames, with 15 fires breaking out simultaneously on Tuesday. After an intense eight-hour operation, involving over 200 firefighters and three helicopters, the fires were extinguished. The alarming nature of the incident prompted Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi to order a probe and the registration of an FIR. The Margalla Hills endure a perilous fire season from April to June, with incidents often abating only with the arrival of the monsoon rains in July. This year, the frequency and intensity of the fires have been unprecedented. Just a day before this major incident, two significant fires were extinguished after a seven-hour effort. These recurring fires can be attributed to many different factors. Climate change has undoubtedly played a significant role, with rising temperatures creating drier conditions conducive to fires. Human negligence is another critical factor; careless disposal of cigarettes, unregulated barbecues, and the carrying of flammable materials by visitors have repeatedly sparked fires. Additionally, there are reports of disgruntled villagers, excluded from seasonal firefighting employment, deliberately setting fires as a form of protest.

Efforts by the Capital Development Authority and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board have been commendable yet insufficient. The CDA’s recent hiring of over 400 local firefighters and establishment of 38 pickets demonstrates a proactive approach. However, the lack of coordination and persistent turf battles between the CDA and IWMB hinder efficient fire management. A unified command structure, as suggested by experts, is essential for an effective response. Moreover, stricter enforcement of regulations prohibiting barbecues, smoking, bonfires, burning and littering of garbage and plastic, the carrying of flammable items such as lighters, charcoal, matchsticks, bottles of petrol or kerosene oil, and cutting down of trees is sorely needed. With climate resilience, public cooperation, and inter-agency coordination, we can protect this natural heritage from further devastation.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2024

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