Parts of northern Trashigang and areas above Drangmechu remained under a blanket of smoke on New Year day following a forest fire in Muktangkhar in Bartsham.
The fire that started towards the afternoon on December 31 has razed more than 100 acres of chirpine forest as of yesterday evening.
Police, Desuups, forest officials and locals are engaged in containing the fire.
The chief forestry officer, Dendup Tshering, said that given the rocky and steep terrain, it was difficult to deploy officials. “We made firelines but it was found ineffective because of the rocky terrain and strong winds in the area.”
Although the cause of the fire is not yet known, residents said that besides other natural and manmade reasons, people intentionally set the forest on fire to make the soil more fertile.
One of the residents in Bartsham said that given the presence of lemongrass undergrowth, people intentionally start a fire to burn lemongrass to increase oil production.
Locals believe that once the lemongrass is burnt, oil production increases the following year.
Forest officials said that for the past three to four years, the dzongkhag has not seen a major forest fire. This according to officials has let the area become drier increasing the possibility of a major forest fire.
In the winter of 2006, a massive forest fire in the same location in Bartsham claimed lives of few volunteers who were fighting the fire.
One of the largest areas destroyed in a forest fire was also in Bartsham in 2014 where it razed 5,449 acres of chirpine and broad-leaved forest. The year saw 20 forest fires where around 16,997 acres of chirpine and broad-leaved forest were lost.
With over 30,124 acres of forest cover lost to fire in the last five years, Trashigang is one of the most forest fire-prone dzongkhags in the country today.
Dendup Tshering said that six gewogs – Bidung, Bartsham, Kanglung, Samkhar, Yangnyer and Udzorong are most fire-prone gewogs in the dzongkhag.
He said that these areas are dry-chirpine zone that lies in a perfect leeward side and receives little rainfall even during monsoon. It was learnt that chirpine forests, which generally signifies dryness, is more prone to forest fires.
Given the high frequency of forest fires in the dzongkhag, the dzongkhag forestry division has conducted numerous advocacy programmes including door-to-door campaigns.
Dendup Tshering said that local forest fire management groups and management plans have been made to reduce the frequency of forest fires. “Even with all these efforts in place, nothing seems to work,” he added.
Meanwhile, a group of people from Ramjar gewog in Trashiyangtse had come to help contain the fire in Bartsham. “We think that if the fire is not contained here, it might reach our villages,” a villager said.
Younten Tshedup | Bartsham