ISLAMABAD–- With the advent of summer season, the environment wing of the Capital Development Authority on Friday afternoon recorded the first forest-fire incident near Lohe Dandi area of Margalla Hills National Park Area.

After two and a half hours of hectic efforts the firemen and forest keepers managed to extinguish the fire that caused no harm to trees but burnt bushes and grass spread over several acres.

“Fire was erupted on the backside of hills near Lohe Dandi area. Difficult rocky terrain and strong wind created difficulties for firemen, however, they extinguished it completely within two and a half hours after reporting of the incident,” Deputy DG Environment Directorate (Margalla Hills) Malik Aulya Khan informed TheNation.

Khan said that area is scattered populated and spotted with the patches of long grass and bushes. He said cause of fire is yet to be ascertained but it might be because of negligence of area residents.

Responding a question, he negated the impression that fire erupted owing to negligence of Pakistan Rangers men stationed near the area. “Pakistan Rangers have had a picket in area - where fire was erupted - but it was removed by Ranger authorities five or six months ago. In fact, recently we have requested the Rangers’ men in the area that they should keep a vigilant eye especially during the summer season and report to CDA’s emergency number 16 in case they found some suspicious person near forest area.”

Though special arrangements are being made every year to avert fire incidents in Margalla Hills National Park Area, data compiled by the Environment Directorate of the Authority and available with TheNation portrays an alarming situation.

During past one decade (2000-2010), a total of 2040.25 acres of forest area of Margalla Hills National Park burnt in 309 fire incidents.

The figure speaks itself about the gravity of losses occurred to wildlife and indigenous trees. However, the same report depicts that such a large-scale fire incidents that burnt forests spread over an area of 2040.25 acres astonishingly caused damage to only 57 dead pine trees along with bushes and grass.

According to report, during year 2000, Margalla Hills witnessed 20 small and large-scale fire incidents in which 88-acre area was burnt, damaging seven dead pine trees along with grass and bushes.

During years 2001-05, wild fire hit Margalla Hills 220 times and an area of 1442 acres was burnt along with 34 dead pine trees. While during years 2006-10, excluding year 2009, 590.25-acre of Park Area was burnt in 80 fire incidents, in which 20 dead pine trees were burnt.

Among last ten years, year 2002 witnessed 62 fire incidents in which a record 548-acre of forest area was burnt. In case of large-scale fire incident, the authority relies on Emergency Relief Cell (ERC). But its a matter of fact that two years ago ERC had turned down the request of CDA regarding provision of helicopter service aerial surveillance of area where fire was erupted.

ERC had refused to provide helicopter service, as it was busy rescuing people in the backdrop of Atta Abad Lake incident.

Later, the press statement issued by the public relations directorate of the Authority stated that a comprehensive deployment plan of the emergency staff has been chalked out for prevention, detection and control of forest fires in Margalla Hills National Park.

Under the plan, 30 forest fire extinguish pickets have been established at various locations of four ranges which includes Golra, Saidpur, Noorpur and Bara Kahu range.

Under the Standing Operating Procedure (SOP) for the fire season, 225 kilometres fire line and 196 kilometres trial-path have already been cleared. Awareness signboards along Daman-e-Koh Road have been fixed, while NGOs like Himalayas Wildlife Foundation (HWF), Margallah Hills Society, and World Wild for Nature (WWF) are also associated for awareness campaign among public for prevention and control of forest fire.

While, 16 villages committees have been constituted in the Margallah Hills and seasonal staff has been engaged in consultation with villages committee of concerned areas.

Seasonal staff on daily wages has been increased from 300 to 400 and total 550 staff inclusive of 150 regular staff has been deployed on 30 fire pickets who would work round the clock in two shifts. A control room has been established at Environment Directorate (F-9 Park), which will operative day and night with emergency telephone no 051-2855513. One observatory picket has also been established at Shakarparian.

Ten vehicles and three water tankers deployed for patrolling prevention and control of forest fire.