Fire in Marghuzar, two people arrested

Two people have been arrested for allegedly setting fire to a forest in Marghuzar valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Swat district, authorities said on Wednesday.

According to Deputy Commissioner Junaid Khan, the suspects had intentionally set fire to the forest in Marghuzar three days ago, an inferno that went on to threaten nearby settlements.

Although unprecedented heat and negligence are the likely causes behind most of the fires, it is now evident a criminal element cannot be sidelined.

According to Anadolu Agency, 14,000 acres of forest cover have been lost during the last three weeks. In some cases, “fires were set intentionally by the locals in order to benefit from a centuries-old law that permits them to share the ownership of forests with the government”, the publication said.

The law allows them to harvest empty land or use it to graze their livestock.

The massive fires, whether set intentionally or having erupted due to natural causes, have broken out in multiple locations over the past month, some of which continued to rage days later.

The latest inferno was reported by rescue teams in Kokarai on Sunday morning.

The day prior, a fire broke out in the Kala Kot forest area of Swat’s Matta town. Efforts to put out the blaze were underway throughout the day, according to rescue teams.

Several teams of the Levies forces, rescue services and civil defence officials took part in fire dousing operations.

Last week, four people were killed after a fire erupted in Shangla district.

The fire broke out in the houses located on the hills of Shangla and spread rapidly due to the dry weather.

Furthermore, fires broke out earlier this month in Kabal, lower Dir, Barikot, and Charbagh.

The Forestry, Environment and Wildlife Department has declared climate change as the major contributor behind unprecedented fire incidents in different forests of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In a detailed report prepared by the department on 210 incidents of forest fires occurring during period from May 23 to June 9, it is observed that rising temperatures, a key indicator of climate change, have caused more evaporation of moisture from the ground, drying out the soil and making vegetation more flammable.

At the same, winter snow peaks are melting about a month earlier, meaning that the forests are drier for longer periods of time.

“Natural causes include climate change, lightning, temperature transmission through rocks, drought and heat with rising greenhouse gas emissions. We expect more wildfires in the years ahead, especially with the fire seasons getting longer,” warns the report.

Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) statistics for national rainfall for the month of March 2022 show rainfall was 62% below normal and the month was the ninth driest month since 1961. Rainfall was largely below normal over all parts of the country with Baluchistan (-66%), Sindh (-65%), Punjab (-65%), KP (-66%) & AJK (-48%).

National rainfall for the month of April 2022 was 74% below normal and the month was the second driest since 1961. Rainfall remained largely below normal over all parts of the country with Punjab (-89%), KP (-79%), Baluchistan (-78%), AJK (-56%) & GB (-51%).

National rainfall for the month of May 2022 was 48.4% below normal with Baluchistan (-91%), Sindh (-91%), GB (-59%), Punjab (-46%), AJK (-37%) & KP (-25%).

Therefore, the decrease in rainfall and inordinate increase in temperature is a trigger for fires, the report explains.

Regarding advertent or inadvertent human action by grazers, tourists, etc., it said that this year the biggest awareness drive was carried out by KP Forest Department during March and April, educating people through social media, banners, pamphlets and brochures.

The forest dependent communities traditionally burn dry grasses to get tender grass for livestock, which sometimes results in forest fires due to winds and “casual attitude of communities”, it noted.

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