Heatwave scorches Pakistan
Image Credit: REUTERS

Islamabad: Authorities in Pakistan battled forest fires in multiple areas, including the capital Islamabad, on Friday as the country grappled with heat waves and dry weather.

Officials are yet to confirm if the fires are related to the high temperatures or due to arson.

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Parts of Pakistan have seen temperatures as high as 52.2°C (126 F) over the last week with South Asia sweltering in a hotter summer this year - a trend scientists say has been worsened by human-driven climate change.

Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from a raging fire in the hills of Islamabad with temperatures hitting 41°C on Friday afternoon.

"It is difficult to get a fire brigade there; rescue officials are trying how to douse the fire," a police official in Islamabad, Sohail Khan, told Reuters, adding that it was not certain if the fires were heat-related or cases of arson.

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A spokesman for the Islamabad police said they were investigating the reasons for the fire and a special team had been formed for the probe by the city's police chief.

A member of the Islamabad Wildlife Board, Waqar Zakaria, said the fire could be a case of "wilful arson", adding that high temperatures have continued longer than usual and May has been drier than normal, leading to fires spreading faster because of dry vegetation.

An area in Punjab close to Islamabad, Kallar Kahar, also saw fire engulf 25 acres of grassland, the province's disaster management (PDMA) said, adding that the flames, which had spread rapidly, had been contained.

"The Kalar Kahar forest fire might be a heat-related eruption," PDMA spokesman Mazhar Hussain told Reuters.

Forest fires were also seen in Lower Dir, 250 km (155 miles) northwest of Islamabad, local resident Mohammad Jalil told Reuters by phone, adding that the flames had begun engulfing hundreds of trees four days ago and were yet to be controlled.

Pakistan is seen as by global organisations as one of the most vulnerable countries to extreme weather and climate change.

In 2022, floods wreaked havoc in the country, killing over 1,700 people and displacing millions.

In India, at least 15 people died of suspected heat-stroke on Thursday with the region gripped by a debilitating heat wave expected to continue until Saturday.