While the investigations are still on to determine the cause of the recent forest fire in Chunzom and ascertain the damages caused, however, the Forest Department (DoF), Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) is resolute that most of the devastating forest fires that occurred in various parts of the country till now is due to the negligence of Bhutan Power Cooperation (BPC).
The department highlighted few cases of devastating forest fires, such as the Chunzom fire in Thimphu and Chenangri in Trashigang which was reported to have escaped from BPC transmission lines that not only destroyed huge forest cover, but also threatened lives and properties.
The officials and people involved in fire suppression expressed that bringing wildfire under containment is enervating and hazardous. Apart from forest fires, other cases of wildlife and human electrocution are also reported due to BPC’s negligence.
According to the head of Forest Fire Management Service (FFMS), Kinley Thering, if the fire escapes from power lines and electrical short circuits then the company shall be held guilty of offences and shall be liable for fines and penalty.
After thorough investigation and if found liable then the company will have to pay a penalty of Nu 10,000 with compensation on commercial rate of royalty base and girth classes for damages plus the suppression cost that includes the total manpower and vehicles involved.
FFMS has an understanding with BPC to clear the line corridor to avoid forest fires which in many cases has not happened.
The forest fire management strategy developed by DoFPS has incorporated both the beneficial as well as the harmful effects of forest fires to the ecosystem, and the use of fire as an important land management tool and recommended community based management of fire by involving the local communities, volunteers, and religious leaders.
In an effort towards reducing forest fire, FFMS has initiated an innovative strategy of incorporating all possible tactical options that would be useful in managing forest fires in the country so that the valuable forests, lives and properties of the people, and important ecosystems are protected, as well as the communities can still have the opportunity to use fire for their land management activities in the rural areas.
Pine forests, believed to be most vulnerable to forest fires, make up almost the whole vegetation of many places in the country.
As per FFMS battling forest fires in a mountainous country, like Bhutan becomes a daunting task, especially at areas where there is no road access. Steep mountainous terrain coupled with lack of effective fire fighting tools is even more difficult for the fire fighters.
Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Lhuentse, Trashigang, and Bumthang are the districts most prone to forest fires as forest fire incidences is reported from those places every year.
The highest incidence of forest fires, 16 cases, was reported from Wangduephodrang destroying 22913.55 acres of chirpine forest.
Trashigang has reported 16 cases of forest fires which destroyed 14347.55 acres of forest.
Meanwhile, Thimphu comes in the third on the list with 11 forest fire cases damaging 500 acres of forest land.
According to FFMS, a majority of the forest fires are caused by burning of agricultural debris and lemon grass in the chirpine forest causes about 60 percent of the forest fires. While another 20 percent are caused by children playing with ignition materials, roadside workers, picnickers, camp fires, etc. 15 percent is caused accidently and 5 percent through unknown sources.
Starting last year, forest fire in the country has increased by double figures comparing to the previous years. 2013-2014 alone recorded 66 forest fire incidences, which as per the FFMS is an alarming rate.
As per the statistics maintained by FFMS, 239 cases of forest fire outbreak has been reported across the country within the span of last six years, destroying unabatedly over more than 44, 934 acres of forest.
The reported attempted to get a response from BPC several times but there was no response.
The BPC in a recent public statement had said that it cannot be directly blamed for the Chunzom fire as it is still investigating the issue.