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Braving forest fires of Himachal – the inspiring story of Raveena Chauhan

Amidst raging fires, triggered by unusually prolonged dry spell and early rise of high temperature this year, there is a heart-warming story about rural women trying to save the forest's wealth in their vicinity

Amidst raging fires, triggered by unusually prolonged dry spell and early rise of high temperature this year, there is a heart-warming story about rural  women trying to save the forest's wealth in their vicinity while authorities sleep over massive loss to the environment in Himachal Pradesh.

The 23- old Raveena Chauhan at village Dodli has set an example, fighting the blaze for five hours and standing as a human wall not letting the fire engulf her house, apart from nearing the village.

The video of Chauhan has already gone viral on social media showing her how she braved the raging fire at Chail forests risking her own life .

“The fire has been going on for the past three days .I informed the forest department and even made calls at control room numbers .No one turned –up for 48 hours .One morning ,I noticed the fire approaching our village ,my house too .I could not stop myself “ she told India Narrative .

Noticing her struggle with the fire, the villagers also joined .The fire was eventually doused before the forest teams reached the spot.

Chauhan, is a post-graduate in political science and lost her father two –three years back.She lives with her mother and younger sister .Since, she hasn’t got a job to sustain the family, she returned to her village to do farming .

“I can’t see such an environmental loss .Though, no big harm is caused to tall deodar or chir pine trees but a lot of fauna and flora gets charred or get reduced to ashes .I have seen the birds crying in panic .Eggs laid in the nests  get roasted .I tried to save a few but in vain “ she explained .

An environmental activist, she had briefly worked with Major General (Rtd) Atul Kaushik , currently chairman HP ( private) educational institutions Regulatory Commission ,who also heads a NGO – Pahari Samaj Paryavaran Kawach .

“She is not only involved in saving the forests from fires ,but also wildlife protection and water conservation .The area faces frequent shortage of drinking water ,especially summers ” Major General Kaushik informed .

Sometime back, when she noticed a rare wildlife animal – Yellow Pine Marten had fallen into a water tank built by the forest department, she struggled to save the animal, unfortunately it died as no one came to rescue. Yellow Pine Marten is a highly endangered species.

The water tank is unfenced. The wild animals die as they often fall into this tank.

As per Kaushik most of the forest fires are the result of negligence ,and majority of these are deliberate .There are villagers ,especially women, who make an effort to see that nobody does any mischief yet summers bring a lot of vulnerability to the forests.

The summer fires, admits Ajay Srivastav , Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) ,have caused extensive damage to the forests .This year, the fires have started quite early because of prolonged dry spell and sudden rise of the temperature .

The official data reveals that more than 700 cases of forest fires have already been reported till April 30 .Nearly 6,000 hectares of the forests ,mainly in the districts of  Shimla,Kangra , Kullu ,Sirmaur and Mandi have been damaged . The loss is  estimated to the tune of loss so far has been pegged at around ₹1.50 crore.

Last week, forests around Shimla were on fire for almost five days resulting in the loss of 158 hectares of forests.

Senior police officials including Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) ,beside Ajay Srivastav ,also reached the spot to oversee measures to douse the fire .But, carrying fire fighting equipment remains always a challenge .

The statistics reveal that the state witnessed the highest number of fires in  2018-19 .There are 2,544 forest fire incidents during this year followed by 1,445 in 2019-20 .The number was slightly low in 2020-21 ,which was  1,045 .In 2021-22 as many as 1,275 fires were reported.

Srivastav admits that most of the forest fires are human-generated either  accidental,or deliberate ones. There is a practice to burn the pasture lands to get rid of the dry leaf litter to ensure fresh grass growth for livestock. If there are rains,the fires do not go out of control but when there’s a prolonged dry  spell,the fires really create havoc as highly combustible stuff is always available in the forests.

Anand Sharma ,a retired meteorologist says “ drought conditions prevailing in the north and rise of temperature is bound to have its serious impact on the human beings ,plants and animals .Thus, the forest fires are raging quite an early”

Neighbouring state of Uttarakhand is considered sixth-highest vulnerable state in terms of fire counts during past some years.

But, there have been serious efforts from the communities to save the forests from the fires .One such instance was recently reported from the forests in the Almora belt.

In Sitlakhet and Sayahi  area of Almora district people have saved their forests from fires .They don’t allow any combustible material including wood or dry grass to be collected near the forests .Before the fire season ,they undertake a control burning of all inflammable materials and even keep a close eye on anyone going to the forests .

There were 21,487 incidents of fire in Uttarakhand’s forests between November 2020 and June 2021. The figure for the same period in the previous year was 759.