Fourteen houses burnt to a cinder by forest fireOver 35 houses and sheds were burnt to ashes in Tehrathum in the past month, police say.
Forty-six-year-old Ranamaya Tamang on Monday was seen trying to salvage her belongings from her gutted house in Sungnam settlement of Laligurans Municipality-6. Two of her sons sat under the flimsy hut set up in a field nearby watching the smouldering debris of their house.
The Tamang family’s house had caught fire that broke out from Bhalukhop Community Forest just below the settlement on Saturday. The forest fire entered the village and gutted 13 houses including Ranamaya’s.
The bushfire continued to smoulder on Sunday as the villagers’ efforts to contain the inferno came to no avail. Ranamaya’s husband Pancha Bahadur was not at home when the incident occurred. He was in Dharan for medical treatment when the house was engulfed by flames.
“We lost Rs60,000 in cash, valuables, food grain and all other belongings to the inferno. We have turned into paupers now,” said Ranamaya. The Tamang family was planning to reroof their thatched house with galvanised zinc sheets. The municipality had provided Rs30,000 last week under its programme to replace all thatched roofs with galvanised sheets.
“The money provided by the municipality and our money from selling goats and cattle were kept in a chest inside the house. The fire burnt all the cash we had kept to repair the house and meet our daily needs,” lamented Ranamaya.
Preliminary police investigation shows that Tamang’s property worth around Rs800,000 was destroyed in the incident.
On Saturday afternoon, the villagers noticed a fire in the community forest. They left no stone unturned to fight the fire but were unsuccessful. “The forest fire fueled by strong winds entered the settlement and destroyed 13 houses with thatched roofs and one with a roof of corrugated zinc sheets,” said Chet Bahadur Ghimire, a local who is also the chief of the community forest users’ group.
The cause of the bushfire is still unknown.
The fire also burnt the houses belonging to Pushpa Raj Khadka, Prem Bahadur Tamang and Chandra Bahadur Budhathoki to a cinder, destroying properties worth nearly Rs1 million each, according to police. Ten other houses in the village were empty since the house owners had migrated away.
In hope of finding their valuables, mainly gold and silver, the fire victims were found digging into the heap of ashes and coals.
As per the preliminary police report, properties worth around Rs8 million of 14 families were destroyed in the conflagration.
The victims are currently living under the open sky processing the terrible incident. Laligurans Municipality and the district branch of the Nepal Red Cross Society have distributed food, blankets, clothes, tarpaulin, and other materials to the victims as relief.
The area does not have natural water sources and since all the pipelines were destroyed by the fire, the villagers are facing a shortage of drinking water. The whole village has plunged into darkness after the electrical poles were burnt down by the fire. The locals say smoke pollution caused by the fire has made breathing difficult.
According to Chairman Ghimire, a few years ago, there were 150 houses in the area but now the number has decreased to around a hundred after the families migrated in search of better amenities. The farmlands left barren by them have now turned into a forest.
“Due to the long drought this year, the forest bed is also dry which fueled the fire and made it harder for us to extinguish the inferno. Due to the decreasing number of people and increasing forest coverage, it has become very difficult to maintain and protect the forest from fire,” said Ghimire.
Several other forest areas in the district are facing similar risks and challenges of forest fire management, says Ghimire.
Similarly, property worth Rs5 million was destroyed due to a forest fire in Hoda settlement, Aathrai Rural Municipality-5, on Sunday. Four houses were completely gutted after the forest fire from Chuhandada forest entered the settlement, said Bishnu Prasad Oli, chairman of ward No 5 of the rural municipality.
According to Oli, on February 26, fourteen houses were gutted when a forest fire entered ward No 6 of the municipality. “Property worth more than Rs8 million was damaged,” said Oli.
According to the District Police Office, over the past month, more than 35 houses and sheds were burnt to ashes in different places of the district due to forest fires.