Islamabad: Firefighters are continuing to battle the massive blaze in different parts of the Koh-e-Sulaiman range in Pakistan.
The fire is ravaging for over a week in the 26,000 hectares of forest in the Sulaiman mountain range, home to the world’s largest pine nut forest.
Three residents of Zhob district of Balochistan have lost their lives attempting to douse the blaze and three have been injured, according to Zhob division commissioner Bashir Baazi. The fire which “turned into a raging inferno” forced residents of nearby villages to leave their homes and move away. Some locals said that the fire has also killed a large number of animals and birds in the forests.
The army, provincial and federal disaster management authorities and other departments are struggling to tackle the flames for more than three days now. Several teams comprising over 300 personnel are taking part in the operation to control the inferno in different areas of the forest.
Two Pakistan Army helicopters, several fire trucks, ambulances and satellite vehicles are taking part in the firefighting operation. One helicopter was being used to pour water and another to drop fireball and fire extinguishing chemicals to put out the fire.
To help Pakistan tackle the fire, neighbouring Iran is sending an Ilyushin Il-76 water bomber - the “biggest firefighter aircraft”. The aircraft can carry and dump up to 42 tons of water or fire extinguishing liquid and drop it in 4 seconds.
On the directives issued by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the government of Balochistan on Sunday formed a nine-member task force to battle the devastating fire. “An emergency has been declared in Zhob and a control room has been established in the forest and wildlife departments,” said Balochistan government spokesperson Farah Azeem Shah. Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo has announced Rs1 million each for the families of three people who lost their lives and Rs500,000 for each injured.
Fire ravaging forests
Officials said the first fire broke out on May 9 in the Mughal Kot area of Koh-e-Sulaiman range and soon enveloped the entire forest. The authorities were taken off guard primarily because the blaze spread was at a higher elevation of between 4,000ft and 11,000ft which made the rescue operations more difficult.
The fire that turned into an inferno has burned large swaths of the forest. The damage assessment would begin after the fire has been extinguished. Locals, who trade in pine nuts, fear that the blazes will seriously affect their livelihoods. The pine nuts grown in the Sulaiman range make up more than 70 per cent of the country’s total production.