For 10 days, aided by winds that keep changing direction and the dryness of winter afternoons, the forests of Dzukou Valley along the Nagaland-Manipur border have been burning. Four IAF choppers, a 300-strong contingent of police, NDRF, SDRF, forest officials and local volunteers are at work, but over 10 sq km of rich oak forests have been razed.
“We got word from locals on December 29 afternoon about smoke rising from the forests. We sent a team, but by evening it got too dark and nothing could be done that day,” Kohima DFO Rajkumar M, who is coordinating the ground operations on the Nagaland side said. “Local youths were stationed there … When the range officer got there next morning, the fire seemed like it was subsiding. But in hours, strong winds fed the fire again.” Every time they try to put out the fire in one area, a change in wind direction redirects the blaze to another. “The fire keeps moving.”
There are no human habitations within the forests, but they are home to rare and endangered birds — the large pheasant-like Blyth’s Tragopan (Nagaland’s state bird, which inspired Vikram Seth’s poem ‘The Elephant and the Tragopan’), the Rufous-necked Hornbill and the Dark-rumped Swift, among many others.