Balochistan government spokesperson Farah Azeem Shah on Sunday said she was confident that the devastating forest fire on the Koh-i-Sulaiman range would be put out by today as the army, provincial and federal disaster management authorities and other officials had amped up efforts.
Reports of the blaze emerged a week ago after the area was struck by lightning and has since engulfed hundreds of trees dotting the mountain range, home to the world’s largest pine nuts (chilghoza) forest and connects Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
It has now turned into a raging inferno, forcing several residents of nearby villages to move to safer locations. Different species of animals and birds are also under threat.
So far three Zhob residents have lost their lives trying to douse to the blaze, the Zhob division commissioner Bashir Baazi told Dawn.com. Baazi said efforts are being made to control the fire but the fire is increasing but a fire barrier had been set up to control the fire which, he too, said would soon be brought under control.
In a media talk in Quetta today, Shah said that the government has formed a task force for a rescue operation in the Shirani district, which is the most threatened from the fire.
“An emergency has been declared in Zhob and a control room has been established in the forest and wildlife departments,” she stated. “Apart from that, three ambulances, two army helicopters, one fire truck, one van, one satellite vehicle and 15 workers have been dispatched there.”
The spokesperson said that fire lines — obstacles to stop the spread of fire — and barriers have been deployed as well. “We are also thankful to the Islamic Republic of Iran for providing us a firefighting aircraft on emergency basis,” she further revealed.
Shah added that it took the authorities time to respond to the emergency because of the lack of resources and then went on to thank Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for his “support and immediate action”.
“Other ministries have also been sent requests for assistance in any technical or operational requirements,” she said, confident that with all these measures, the situation would soon be doused.
How did the fire start?
Meanwhile, Balochistan Chief Conservator of Forests Muhammad Taj explained that forest fires start when the air rises and a low pressure system develops. “The fire further spread because of dry and drought spells and high wind velocity.”
According to Zhob Division Commissioner Bashir Baazi, the first fire broke out on May 9 in the Mughal Kot area of Koh-i-Sulaiman range and affected olive and chilgoza trees within the radius of 25 km.
“The fire was barely extinguished when a second fire broke out late Wednesday in the Saraghalai area in Shirani,” he said.
At the press conference alongside Shah today, Taj said that this blaze was different from other ones because it was a “crown fire” which quickly spread to other trees and was extremely dangerous for the forests.
“This one enveloped the entire forest which took us off guard. We weren’t prepared for it. Secondly, the areas where its spread was on higher elevation at the height of between 4,000ft and 11,000ft which made the rescue operations difficult,” the conservator said.
He further assured that the fire will be contained today, adding that as a preventive measures for the future, the government had issued instructions for its forest staff to “spend 75% of their time in the forests”.