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An IAF helicopter was pressed into service to extinguish the raging forest fires in Uttarakhand’s Nainital district on Saturday, a day after the flames reached the High Court Colony in the Pines area. The blaze came dangerously close to the houses in the colony and an Army cantonment around five kilometres away from the Pines, prompting the response by authorities.

The Indian Air Force said a Mi-17 V5 helicopter was deployed to assist in the firefighting operations. “With a forest fire building up in vicinity of an Air Force Station near Nainital, #IAF activated its aerial fire fighting capability, employing a Mi-17 V5 helicopter for undertaking Bambi Bucket Ops,” it posted on ‘X’.

Forest officials said the helicopter collected water from the Naini and Bhimtal lakes in a Bambi bucket and poured it over the burning forests of the Pines, Bhumiadhar, Jyolikot, Narayan Nagar, Bhawali, Ramgarh and Mukteshwar areas.

The bucket can hold up to 5,000 litres of water at a time.

Boating activities were briefly suspended in Naini Lake due to its low water level, but in Bhimtal Lake, it has been stopped for now, an official said.

SDM Pramod Kumar said the fire has engulfed the forests from Pines to Ladiyakanta.

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said all efforts are being made to bring the fires under control. Mr Dhami undertook an aerial survey of the affected areas and reviewed the efforts made so far to extinguish the fires with officials of the Kumaon division at the Forest Training Academy in Haldwani.

He issued strict instructions that forest officers should not be allowed to go on leave until the forest fires are completely controlled and exemptions should be given only in cases of serious illness.

The Army’s help is also being taken, Mr Dhami said and issued instructions to take action against those found guilty of setting fire to the forests.

State forest minister Subodh Uniyal said all DFOs are in the field to ensure the fires are effectively controlled. He hoped they would be controlled soon as they were surface fires and not ground fires which continue to rage for days on end.

The continued dry spell for several weeks in the hill state has led to a spike in forest fire incidents especially in the Kumaon region.

Nainital District Magistrate Vandana Singh issued directions to the forest department, fire department, PRD, disaster management, district panchayat and police to effectively stop the forest fire.

She also imposed a ban on the construction of houses and car washing until the situation was brought under control.

Singh asked for emergency meetings to be held in each gram Sabha to educate people not to light garbage on fire.

Three people were arrested in Rudraprayag on Friday while trying to set fire to forests.

As many as 31 fresh incidents of forest fire were reported from various parts of the state on Friday, destroying 33.34 hectares of forest land, according to officials.

The fire that broke out in the forest near Nainital took a horrific form on Friday, posing a threat to the residents of High Court Colony. It also affected traffic movement in the area.

Besides forest department staff, Army personnel are involved in efforts to control the fire.

Anil Joshi, a resident of the Pines area and assistant registrar of the Uttarakhand High Court said, “The fire engulfed an old and vacant house located near The Pines on Friday. It did not cause any damage to High Court Colony but it came dangerously close to the buildings.” Nainital Divisional Forest Officer Chandrashekhar Joshi said, “We have deployed 40 Manora Range personnel and two forest rangers to extinguish the fire.” From November 1 last year till now, a total of 575 incidents of forest fire have been reported in Uttarakhand, affecting 689.89 hectares of forest area.