Wednesday, 19 May, 2021
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Security personnel face difficulty to fight Taplejung fire



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By Nayak Paudel
Kathmandu, Dec. 30: The authorities, locals and security officials have been facing a hard time in controlling the wildfire which is spreading in the forest around Pathivara Temple at Taplejung for the last five days.
Taplejung district does have a fire engine but the forest lies in a difficult terrain making it accessible only on foot. Around two hundred security officials and locals are said to be trying their best to prevent the fire from spreading but it seems to be unfeasible.
With the wildfire expanding throughout the forest, concerned authorities are worried about its effect on the temple following which a helicopter of Simrik Air was used to pour water over the fire on Monday.
“Officers from Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and Nepal Police along with the locals are on the site but they don’t seem to stand a chance in controlling the fire. We are able to prevent the fire from reaching the temple for now but the strong wind is expanding the wildfire. The only thing we can focus for now is to prevent it from reaching the nearby settlements and the temple, and hope it will rain soon,” said Jharendra Prasad Chapagain, chief district officer at Taplejung.
The fire has already destroyed a huge area of the forest and affected the habitat of wildlife, including that of red panda, an endangered animal found in the area. Nepal is estimated to have been losing around 200,000 hectares of forest cover every year since 2005 due to forest fires.
Since controlling the forest fire is a difficult task, concerned stakeholders argue that the major focus should be given to reduce risks and hazards which lead to forest fires.
“Countries abroad have equipment to control forest fire and they also generate awareness among its people regarding the steps of prevention and safety. But in the case of Nepal, the best option to control forest fire is to wait for rain,” said Lila Raj Gachha Magar, chief at Juddha Barun Yantra, the oldest fire brigade of Kathmandu.
According to Magar, Nepal doesn’t only lack equipment and machineries to control forest fire but is also far backward in regard to the capacities it needs in controlling increasing number of fire incidents within the settlements.
“Every local level must have an access to fire engine and several equipment stand by because a fire which breaks out in a house can expand to other houses nearby if not controlled in time. Having a fire engine within every local level reduces time of response and can control the fire before it causes more damage,” said Magar.
The data received from the Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction Portal of the Home Ministry showed that there have been over 2,050 fire incidents across the country within 2020, which affected over 2,600 families.
Likewise, over 300 people were injured and nearly 50 people lost their lives. The fire incidents in 2020 also resulted in total property loss of around Rs 1.5 billion.
Among the fire incidents reported, the records show that around 80 per cent of fires occurred as a result of electric short circuit followed by gas leakage while cooking. Similarly, fire incidents have also been caused from the firewood used to cook food and fodder. Likewise, the fire made to keep family members warm in the cold wave of winter in Terai region has also resulted in several fire incidents.
“We don’t have enough equipment and manpower throughout the country to control fire incidents effectively. On the top, people lack knowledge and awareness of their roles in controlling fire incidents and preventive measures to reduce chances of fire incidents. In many places, our officers have to rely on sand and water collected in buckets to put off the fires,” said Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Basanta Bahadur Kunwar, central police spokesperson.
Officers from the Armed Police Force and Nepal Army also informed that they have been facing several hurdles and challenges in controlling fire incidents due to the lack of fire engines and basic protective equipment.
Fire fighters and security agencies strongly argue that the government must be more concerned about fire incidents and prepare all the local levels to tackle such cases.
“Fire incidents take place throughout the year and damage property worth millions but the government is not concerned about it. Fire incidents are preventable with proper awareness and controllable with necessary equipment due to which the authorities must focus on achieving it,” said Magar.