Excavator driver is main suspect in Thimphu fire

According to forestry officials the driver while parking the excavator hit a power line leading to flickers that started the fire

A forest fire, that started from an apple orchard in south Thimphu, rapidly engulfed a large stretch of forest and then a combination of wind and geography ensured that Thimphu valley was covered under a dense smoke that burned eyes and nostrils across the capital on Thursday.

Even those locked indoors were not safe as the smoke wafted in giving a smoky experience to many residents.

The fire though not as smoky continued on Friday and is expected to continue for a few more days until it is brought under control and extinguished.

According to forestry officials, the fire had initially started from an apple orchard in Ramtokto when a man who was parking an excavator happened to hit the power line with the excavator bucket. A few labourers stationed nearby had witnessed the flickers erupting from the power line which dropped on the dry undergrowth and instantly ignited a fire.

The excavator operator fled from the site as soon as the fire spread. However, the police was able to retrieve his mobile phone. The excavator operator works for a construction company called Vajra Builders and the police with the help of the company owner was able to locate and detain the man.

The man whose identity is yet to be released gave a statement to the police and was questioned by them. He has so far denied starting the fire but the police investigation is underway.

The forest fire, which started from Ramtokto, Thimphu, on the afternoon of March 17, was a difficult fire to contain as it took a considerable amount of time for fire fighters to reach the blazing fire site due to lack of road access.

Many of the fire fighters had crawled uphill on their hands and knees along narrow foot paths, all the while being exposed to the intense heat and breathing in the thick fumes from the raging fire. What did not help in the fight was the gusty wind blowing from all directions, forcing the fire fighters to retreat as well.

However, the fire fighters were able to contain a portion of the fire near the Buddha statue that threatened to burn the young plantations planted to celebrate the birth of His Royal Highness The Gyalsey.

As the wind picked up, it made it difficult for the fire fighters in controlling the main fire.

Nothing deterred the fire fighters as they clambered to even higher areas where the fire had gained intensity.  Armed with just portable water bags, branches and some tools the fire fighters doused various fires heading in different directions.

However, the main fire is still burning and will take some more time to control.

Volunteers, Desuups, and armed force personnel assisted in the firefighting effort.

“The fire suppression in difficult topography is very challenging since we heavily depend on manpower,” Desuup Kinga Tshering said. He added that the fire fighters face challenges in such areas due to the lack of special equipment and limited manpower to fight fires.

So far, the fire division of the Royal Bhutan Police has been effective in containing fires that occur within the reach of road network within a few hours time.

According to the Chief Forestry Officer, Passang Wangchen, the most effective tool recommended to be carried in the field is a Fedco backpack water pump which can hold 20 liters of water. The water from the backpack can cool down the fire which is then suppressed further with a flapper.

Power chainsaw, Pulaski axe- a dual-headed implement used both as a chopping axe and as a ‘grub-hoe’-style pickaxe for aggressive digging, especially in rough, rocky terrain are also used by the fire fighters.

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