Forest fires spread across Indian Himalayan state

Forest fires are spreading across the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in what officials fear could prove to be one of the worst fire seasons in years.

The Uttarakhand forest department has recorded 1,500 fire incidents in the state so far this year, with blazes intensifying in April as northern India’s hot, dry summer approaches.

The Himalayan region faces forest fires in the first half of every year, a combination of factors including rising temperatures ahead of summer and crop-stubble burning as part of local agricultural practices.

But scientists say that what appears to have been a particularly dry winter, perhaps the driest of the last decade, has exacerbated blazes across the mountains. Neighbouring Nepal has also faced a severe fire season, leaving the capital Kathmandu enveloped in smog.

Uttarakhand, around two-thirds of which is forested, has deployed thousands of personnel to try to control the fires. But locals fear this is becoming a new normal.

The forest “is the big wealth of Uttarakhand. It’s our main resource,” said Atul Sati, an environmental activist based in the state. “If we lose it, it’s not only a loss for Uttarakhand, it’s a loss for India and the world.”

Fast population growth in the region is adding to pressures on Himalayan forests, with the increase in agricultural activity making it harder to manage burning.

“We’re degrading the natural environment,” said Iqbal Mead of the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. “There are fewer and fewer places we can call wild.”

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