Forest fires are spreading in the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in what officials fear will be one of the worst fire seasons in years.
The Uttarakhand Forest Department has recorded 1,500 fires in the state so far this year, with fires intensifying in April as the hot, dry summer in northern India approaches.
The Himalayan region faces forest fires in the first half of each year, a combination of factors including rising temperatures before summer and stubble burning as part of local farming practices.
But scientists say what appears to have been a particularly dry winter, possibly the driest in the past decade, has exacerbated the flames in the mountains. Neighboring Nepal also faced a severe fire season, leaving the capital Kathmandu shrouded in smog.
Uttarakhand, about two-thirds of which is forested, has deployed thousands of people to try to control the fires. But locals fear this will become a new normal.
The forest “is the great wealth of Uttarakhand. It is our main resource, ”said Atul Sati, a state-based environmental activist. “If we lose her, it’s not just a loss for Uttarakhand, it’s a loss for India and the world.”
The rapid population growth in the region is adding to the pressures on the Himalayan forests, as increased agricultural activity makes it more difficult to manage the burning.
“We are degrading the natural environment,” said Iqbal Mead of the Nepal-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development. “There are fewer and fewer places that we can call wild.”
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