Uttarakhand fires
'The situation is quite bad but this year, the media has actually brought the issue to the forefront,' said one operator
Villagers try to shift to a safer place after a forest fire in Amola Village in Yamkeshwal in Uttarakhand on Sunday. PTI Photo

Images of the Uttarakhand fires have scorched screens and front pages alike in the last few days. But are they affecting the entire state as the visuals show? A Facebook post by Anand Sankar, resident of the Uttarakhand and founder of the NGO Kalap Trust, certainly seems to say otherwise. Here is an excerpt –

“FIRST, these fires are localized phenomena the entire state is NOT affected. PLEASE refrain from saying it is a disaster affecting the entire state. LOTS of livelihoods depend on tourism in the summer, misinformation is very COSTLY as we have seen in 2013 and during last year's Nepal earthquake.”

Anand, who has been living there for about a decade, says that forest fires in April are quite common. He blames the over the top representation of the wildfire on the fact that most of the journalists reporting on the issue are not aware of Uttarakhand’s geography.

“This happened in 2013 [when Uttarakhand was flooded] and even last year when the Nepal earthquake struck. Such exaggerated representation has created mass panic as anyone who is travelling to Uttarakhand would rely on media reports. It is an environmental disaster, there is no question about that, but there is no direct threat to human life,” he said

However, he agrees that the harsh winter and the drought have indeed aggravated the situation, given that deciduous trees like Pine and Sal are prone to fires.

Anand is not the only one who feels that the media has blown the impact of Uttarakhand fires out of proportion. AK Diwedi, Additional Director Tourism with the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board also argued said that while the fires were more intense and damaging, people looking to travel to the state should not worry.

“It is nothing to be afraid of. As soon as there is a little rain, the fires will be doused.”

According to a report in the TOI, after the 2013 flood and the Nepal earthquake, the footfall of tourists witnessed a dip. Now, the tourism industry fears the repercussions of the coverage of the forest fires, which imply that the entire state is affected.  Akshay Kumar, president of the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India said that forest fires in the Kumaon, Garhwal region were actually quite common.

“Fires in these regions are rampant every year. The situation is quite bad but it’s just that this year, the media has actually brought the issue to the forefront,” he explained. He said that while he was getting calls and cancellation requests from frantic tourists, they need not be alarmed because the tourist destinations were not at risk.

While the speculations around the cause of the fires still range from natural reasons to the timber mafia, former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forest Force, Srikant Chandola, believes that these days fires are caused either deliberately or due to activities that result in forest fires. However, he indicated that the more urbanized areas were out of harm’s way.