Fires ravage Islamabad’s Margalla Hills as temperatures soar into 40s

Forest fires injure firefighters, kill wildlife species and turn priceless trees into ashes

Islamabad: Plumes of smoke were still engulfing the forest around Margalla Hills in Islamabad on Saturday, as the forest fire that broke out on Wednesday was finally doused after three days of hectic efforts.

“The fire has been completely contained as of Saturday morning after three days of continuous efforts,” Altaf, assistant director of CDA Forest department, told Gulf News.

“The smoke seen in the sky is emanating from burnt pine trees, which are at least 60 metres tall and continue to emit smoke for days after burning,” he said.

Forest fires have been raging in Islamabad’s mountains for the past three days, injuring firefighters, killing wildlife species and turning the priceless trees into ashes.

More than 70 firefighters of Capital Development Authority (CDA) and Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) were battling the forest fire that was finally doused on Saturday morning.

Army Aviation and PAF helicopters also joined the efforts for aerial firefighting using Bambi Buckets to cool down the area during 41 sorties.

The fire being termed as worst fire of the year has reportedly affected over six hectares due to high winds.

Dozens of animals, reptiles and birds were reportedly burnt to death by the raging bushfire.

“It was painful to hear the crying sound of birds and some animals as we were heading back home after Sehri from Monal [one of the restaurants in Margalla Hills],” said Sehar Karim, a resident of Islamabad.

Fires initially broke out at two points — behind Saidpur Village and Daman-e-Koh picnic point. But it quickly spread and was reported in different areas such as Budhuban, Jabbi and Nooran di Gali in Saidpur Zone and Ratta Hotter, Mandiala and Lohi Dandi in Shahdara Zone.

Talking to Gulf News, Uzma Saeed, Manager Operations at IWMB, said the organisation’s 22 guards worked day and night to douse the fire.

“Our teams made all-out efforts to extinguish the blazes in scorching heat, and while fasting for Ramadan.” Uzma said, adding the recent fire was an extension of the major May 23 fire on the hills.

“Fire incidents have been continuously reported in several areas of the park since May 23 and this time it got completely out of control.”

Several firefighters suffered injuries while battling the blaze, from smoke inhalation to minor burns, CDA officials said.

Many of firefighters go into the blazing areas without the proper gear, putting their lives at risk. Instead, they use traditional methods to put out fires such as beating back the fire with bushes and using cutting tools to prevent the spreading of blaze.

Temperatures above 40 degree Celsius, low humidity and steep terrain created difficult conditions on the fire ground. CDA hires around 400 locals every year from various villages in the Margalla hills for firefighting operations during the peak season (April 15 to July 15) but this year, locals have not yet been hired due to administrative issues between CDA and the newly formed IWMB, tasked to protect Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP).

Some officials descrbied the fires as acts of arson by disgruntled villagers who may have been heavily fined by authorities or unable to acquire daily wages, while some blamed the timber mafia.

“This is fire has been deliberately set as the authorities have banned woodcutting, poaching, encroachment and all other illegal trades by mafias in the Margalla Hills. This is actually the ‘punishment’ for doing the right thing,” an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Spread over 12,605 hectares, the MHNP sees scores of fires every year, which damage the forest and add to air pollution. At least 10 fires have been reported this year and four in this month alone.

Residents of Islamabad have made social media pleas to save the forests as years of deforestation have been catastrophic for Pakistan which is most adversely affected by climate change.

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