Sherani forest fire still rages on despite efforts to contain it due to difficult terrain and lack of resources

Three people lost lives and thousands of pine and olive trees burnt down as inferno spread to large forest area in Suleman mountain range

The fire that broke out nearly 10 days ago on the Sulaiman mountain range in Musakhel and Sherani districts of Balochistan is still raging on. The fire has engulfed the world’s largest Pine (Chilgozha) forest. Three people have lost their lives in the efforts to douse the fire and several others got injuries.

Thousands of Pine and Olive trees have been burnt down in the inferno so far. Pine nut (Chilgozha) is one of the most expensive nuts in Pakistan that people eat during winter season. Different species of animals and birds are also under threat. This mountain range also connects Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

This forest is the source of livelihood for many local residents. The local people not only lose livelihood as the result of fire but the ecosystem of the area will also be badly affected. The federal and provincial governments should prepare a proper plan to launch a massive plantation drive once the fire douse off.    

Despite the hectic efforts of the local administration and forest department, the fire is still not under control. The fire now has spread to 7 square km area on the Koh-i-Sulaiman range. Hundreds of young local volunteers are also involved in the efforts to control the fire. Pakistan Army, FC and provincial government is trying to help the local administration in the efforts to put off the fire.  

Local residents claimed that fire erupted in adjacent Mughal Kot Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) on May 9 and local levies and forest guards tried to extinguish it on their own but due to difficult terrain they failed miserably.

The fire started in three different places and local tried to bring it under control but all their efforts failed due to lack of resources. The government didn’t help initially when the fire could have been extinguished through use of helicopters and now it has spread to a vast 30 square kilometer area.

It is worth mentioning here that only 1.4% of Balochistan's massive land comprises forests. Through the billion tree tsunami less than 1m saplings were planted on the 44% of land mass of Pakistan. A massive firefighting operation needed to save the precious forests and habitant living there.

According to local officials of the forest department, the fire started more than a week ago   after the area was struck by lightning and has since engulfed hundreds of trees dotting the mountain range.  Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Qudoos Bizenjo, federal minister Maulana Abdul Wasey and Commander 12 Corps Lt Gen Sarfraz Ali and other officials concerned visited Sherani district and reviewed the situation.

On the occasion, CM Bizenjo announced Rs1 million each for the families of three people who lost their lives and Rs500, 000 for each injured. He said the federal government would also announce compensation for the fire victims.

Federal Minister for Housing and Works Maulana Abdul Wasey said Iran had provided a special plane to Pakistan to douse fire and it would start its operation on Sunday (today). It seems that more intense efforts needed to douse the raging fire.

 The federal government should immediately launch coordinated plan to contain the fire. Forests are blessing of the nature and we should do whatever is possible for us to save the Sherani forests.

Meanwhile, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) provided the details of the ongoing firefighting and rescue operations through a press release. The statement said that Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan were providing all-out assistance to local administration in putting out the fire. Provincial and national disaster management authorities were steering relief efforts and organising firefighting activity, it said.

 “Fire is mostly on mountain tops (10,000 feet high) away from population centres but continues to spread due to hot weather, inaccessible nature of the terrain and dry winds; nearest village is approximately eight to 10 kilometers away from the location of the fire,” it said.

However, 10 families residing in isolated houses have been shifted to a medical relief camp established in Manikhawa by FC Balochistan, it added. An FC wing and two army helicopters, along with local administration and Levies have been employed in firefighting and relief efforts.

One helicopter was being used to drop water and another to drop fireball and fire extinguishing chemicals to put out the fire. As many as 400 fireballs, 200 fire suits, blankets, tents, mats and fire extinguishing equipment were provided by National Disaster Management Authority through FC Balochistan. The army has also transported relief equipment from Lahore to Zhob, it added.

                                                              Rukhsana Manzoor Deputy Editor

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