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In Manipur's fragile Dzukou Valley, fight to contain wildfire continues

Volunteers, Army, Air Force and fire and disaster response personnel battle the blaze in the ecologically sensitive area for the fifth day

The wildfire broke out on 29 December
The wildfire broke out on 29 December (Twitter)

It's nearly a week since a fire broke out in the ecologically-sensitive Dzukou Valley on the Nagaland-Manipur border. The Indian Air Force (IAF) is continuing its Bambi Bucket operation to douse the fire and contain its spread.

The IAF tweeted that the operation continued throughout Sunday and that four MI17 helicopters were deployed at Dimapur and Rangapahar. Bambi buckets are special buckets suspended on a cable and carried by helicopters for aerial firefighting. The buckets have a release valve at the lower end, which is controlled by the helicopter crew.

National and state disaster rescue personnel, fire services and forest department officers, local police, paramilitary staff and volunteers have joined the operation to douse the blaze, which broke out on the Nagaland side on 29 December and soon spread to the Manipur side of the valley. The valley is about 25km from Kohima, Nagaland's state capital.

The district forest officer for Kohima, Rajkumar M told PTI that IAF choppers had dropped 24,000 litres of water to extinguish the wildfire in 12 sorties. He said the fire was under control as reported by the pilots as of Sunday night and the teams were trying to prevent it from spreading to the Dzukou valley.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined nor the range that it has affected but local caretakers suspect that a group of trekkers was responsible for starting the blaze.

"In Nagaland, the authorities are trying to control the blaze through traditional 'fire line cutting'," The New Indian Express reported.

Dry grass and strong winds fanned the flames. A retired IAF pilot told The New Indian Express that the gusts of wind, hilly terrain and turbulence would make the Bambi Bucket operation harder.

The valley, which sits at the border of Manipur and Nagaland, is a popular tourist spot though the number of visitors has fallen since the start of the covd-19 pandemic. It's known for its seasonal wildflowers, the most famous of which is the Dzukou Lily, and beautiful hills.

Sixty personnel of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were deployed on Saturday at the wildfire site, ANI reported. Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, who undertook an aerial survey of what he described as "the most beautiful place of Manipur", had tweeted that the fire had "spread quite extensively and caused serious damage on this part of mountain range."

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