Forest fires continue in Trikuta hills in Katra

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 5/18/2016 11:44:29 PM

JAMMU, May 18: A major forest fire continue to engulf Trikuta hills, the abode of Mata Vaishno Devi, in Katra town of Reasi district on second consecutive day following which the Air Force today pressed into service two MI-17 helicopters to douse the blaze.
Shrine Board authorities, however, claimed that they have managed to extinguish the fire in the 40 percent of the affected area and are working on a war footing to douse the flames completely.
Large areas of the forest in Trikuta Hills have been burning in wild fires raging there for the last two days even as teams of the forest and fire services departments, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers, officials of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board and police are engaged in fighting them.
Officials, however, confirmed the fires are away from the shrine, but as a precautionary measure, all the helicopters used to ferry pilgrims from Katra town to the uphill cave shrine have been shifted to the campus of the Mata Vaishno Devi University away from the forest area.
"A massive forest fire broke out at several places in the forests of Katra town, adjoining Banganga area at old Dhrudh and fire covered about 10 kms, near the base camp of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine yesterday,” SSP Reasi Sujit Kumar said while addressing media persons at Katra.
He said following the fire the helicopters used for ferrying the pilgrims to the cave shrine had to be shifted to safer places. They have also shifted their fuel stocks at safer places.
"Yesterday, the yatra was affected as the chopper service remained suspended, today also it remained suspended for some time but now the fire at several places has been contained so the service was re-started", Kumar added.
Following the massive fire that spread to several areas, the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board requested the Air Force to help douse the fire.
"At around 6.30 AM today, Air Force Station Udhampur received a distress call from Shrine Board requesting help to douse the fire. Two MI-17 helicopters were pressed into service to lift water from Reasi Dam to be sprinkled on areas engulfed by the forest fire,” a defence spokesman said, adding that the two MI-17 helicopters have been continuously making sorties and lifting water to douse the fire.
"With the help of the Air Force, we have been able to extinguish the fire to a great extent. Barring few far off areas, the fire has been controlled in most of the areas on Trikuta hills", the SSP said, adding that no loss of life or property was reported due to the forest fire.
However, Shrine Board authorities claimed that over 200 men, including firemen and staff of the Shrine Board, two platoons of police besides forest teams were engaged to the blaze. They have extinguished the fire in the 40 percent of the affected area and are working on a war footing to douse the flames completely, authorities claimed.
Authorities further claimed that the fire had led to the suspension of the chopper service from Katra to Vaishno Devi Shrine. The chopper companies Himalaya and Global Vectra, as a precautionary measure, had shifted landing base to Mata Vaishno Devi University. However, normal services resumed today morning.
Shrine Board spokesman claimed that two of the three major forest fires which had broken out separately last night in Trikuta Hills- Sirla/Nangla Range and in Devi Pindian sector have been brought under control by the Shrine Board’s Forest team with the active involvement of local villagers. Prolonged dry spell coupled with steep slopes and gusty winds led to spread of fire to nearby Ranges of Trikuta Hills. The intensity and extent of fire at Sukhal Ghati/Khandi Dhar ridge has also come down. The efforts of ground teams of the Shrine Board and CRPF jawans engaged in control of fire for last three days were also aided by the Air Force which conducted six sorties today to sprinkle water over affected areas. The MI 17 deployed for the purpose lifted 70,000 liters of water in each round from the nearly Salal dam.
Shrine Board spokesman added that the yatra including that by helicopters is going on smoothly and 33,241 pilgrims had darshan on May 17, 2016. Nearly 200 persons deployed by the Shrine Board and CRPF are camping at various sites on the Trikuta Hills for controlling the fire. Dr MK Kumar, Additional CEO, Pankaj Gupta, Deputy CEO and Rajinder Singh, OSD of the Shrine Board have been camping at Adhkuwari to oversee the operation.
Officials said that the fire broke out in the ridge adjoining areas to Banganga and later spread to the forest near the Katra helipad.
Forest fires are often triggered by carelessness of trekkers and by those who venture into forests to collect firewood.



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