Australia-type bushfire ravages Mizoram’s southern districts

Kolkata:┬áIndian Air Force helicopters with Bambi Buckets have been pressed into service to put out an Australia-type bushfire raging for two days in Mizoram’s Lunglei district.

Late on Sunday night, the fire had spread to Lunglei town and villages in the adjoining district of Lawngtlai.

Mizoram government firefighters, backed by Assam Rifles and Border Security Force troops and local volunteer groups have so far failed to put out the fire, officials said.

Late on Sunday evening, the Indian Air Force, receiving an SOS from the Mizoram government, pressed into service two Mi-17V5 helicopters, equipped with specialized Bambi Buckets, to control the raging bushfire.

The fire was sparked around 7 a.m. on Saturday possibly by some villagers who were trying to clear the hills near Lunglei town, possibly for shifting cultivation common in the hills of Northeast India.

It snowballed into a raging bushfire spreading to ten village council areas in and around Lunglei town. By Sunday night, it had spread to three rural development blocks of Lawngtlai district.

Officials said the helicopters have somewhat helped control the fire.

“We have controlled much of the fire by Saturday evening itself,” said A. Kulothungan, DC, Lunglei district, “However, it erupted again on Sunday morning and is still raging. High winds and dry vegetation have caused the spread of the fire and it is now a huge challenge to put it out.”

Mizoram DIPR said in a press statement that the fire ravaged localities such as Zotlang, Serkawn, Chanmari in Lunglei town, even engulfing “some buildings”.

But it said the fire in Lunglei town “could be contained and doused before it caused any major loss to property.”

“As the fire had spread close to human settlements, the administration evacuated residents. But no death or injuries to citizens or damage to their property were reported so far,’ DC Kulothungan told IANS.

However, some damage was reported from Lawngtlai district.

“In Bungtlang South, the fire completely destroyed fourteen houses. Nobody were injured but livestock perished in the fire,” said Marilyn Rualzakhumthangi, ADC, Lawngtlai district.

“Smaller fires are still burning but that might not jeopardise human settlements but we cannot be complacent,” said ADC Rualzakhumthangi.

In February, Mizoram forest officials had said that around 1,300 forest fires were reported in the state in 2020.

They said around 1,090 incidents were caused due to Jhum or slash-and-burn cultivation, while 210 were due to natural causes. Jhum involves clearing a forest tract by slashing vegetation and burning it before planting seeds.

The Forest Survey of India (FSI), Dehradun says forests of the Northeast and central India regions are the most vulnerable areas to forest fires.

Forests in Assam, Mizoram and Tripura have been identified as ‘extremely prone’ to forest fire, not only because they have substantial forest cover but because in recent years, monsoon have been delayed and the vegetation dries up.