Delhi/Dehradun: Three Mi 17 choppers of the IAF on Sunday dumped loads of water on forest fires raging for days in Nainital and Pauri districts in Uttarakhand.
Even as the IAF team had to fight poor visibility due to thick plumes of smoke, the authorities claimed that the situation was gradually getting under control.
The latest satellite imagery of the forest fires had reported that the blaze has been extinguished in over 75 per cent of the affected area in the hill state.
The water sprinkling operations commenced today as part of efforts to douse the fires that has killed seven persons and destroyed 2,269 hectares of forested land. The fire has also spread to sparsely populated remote hill areas.
Meanwhile, the Union Home Ministry today sent a four-member expert team to Uttarakhand and submit its report within a week after taking stock of the situation.
The team comprises Santosh Kumar, executive director of the National Institute of Disaster Management; SP Vashist, deputy inspector general of forests under the ministry of environment and forests; KC Wadhwa, special director at the Centre for Fire Explosives and Environment Safety and GC Mishra, director of Fire Services, Delhi.
"The team will submit its report to the home ministry within one week after taking stock of situation," a ministry statement said.
Assuring that the situation was under control, the statement said, "About 6,000 people from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), state police, forest staff and volunteers are deployed there. Three Air Force helicopters including an Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and two MI-17 helicopters with Bambi bucket have also been deployed to assist the local administration," as per IANS.
It said Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had spoken to Uttarakhand Governor KK Paul regarding incidents of forest fires that began 88 days ago and have so far destroyed nearly 3,000 acres of forest cover.
On the other hand, Choppers in Nainital are lifting water in bamby buckets from Bhimtal lake while the one at Pauri is collecting water from Shrinagar dam.
Besides fighting the flames, active fire spots are also being identified with the help of satellite data so that the choppers can rush straight to the spot and take corrective steps speedily, Additional Chief Secretary S Ramaswamy told PTI.
As the Centre's handling of the forest fires came under attack from the Congress, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the government was taking the incident "very seriously" and making all efforts to control it.
"Government is taking the forest fires of Uttarakhand very seriously. 6,000 people have been deployed for fighting it. We also granted Rs 5 crore to the state yesterday," he said.
Since the beginning of forest fire season in the state in February, 922 incidents have occurred.
Forest fires are natural during summer but this time they have occurred on a bigger scale as the fire season which normally begins by February 15 and ends by June 15, began on February 2.
Pre-fire alerts listing possible fire points over the next seven days in forest areas are being made available on forest department's website www.Forest.Uk.Govt., an official release said.
(With Agency inputs)