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Forest fires sweep through Uttarakhand in northern India

Massive fires have swept through dozens of square kilometers of pine forests in India's Himalayan state, Uttarakhand. The blaze has killed at least seven people and is endangering two of India's major tiger reserves.

Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters dropped water on fires tearing through vast areas of pine forests in Uttarakhand on Monday. Senior Uttarakhand civil servant S. Ramaswamy told the Press Trust of India that over 10,000 troops from India's disaster response and forest forces had been deployed to control the blaze.

India's official radio broadcaster tweeted these pictures.

Fire had been extinguished in about 75 percent of the affected areas. "We have been informed that fresh images from satellite have shown that the effective area under fire in Uttarakhand has come down to 110-115 locations from…about 427. It is expected that these figures will be brought down to 50-60 in the next few days by the combined forces fighting to douse the jungle fire," O.P. Singh, director of the National Disaster Response Force, told journalists.

India's Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar also said the central government was taking the incident very seriously and had granted Uttarakhand additional financial aid of around 650,000 euros ($744,000) to fight the fires.

The minister also said that police had arrested four men over the weekend accused of starting the forest fire. Local media suggested that timber smugglers could be linked to the fires.

Uttarakhand is situated in northern India, on the border to China and Nepal. It is home to some of the tallest Himalayan peaks and has an extensive forest cover, including oak, pine and teak trees. Vast areas of the ecologically fragile region have been designated as tiger and elephant habitats.

Fires began spreading in the region nearly two months ago, as a result of extremely dry weather and high wind speeds that made the blaze spread rapidly.

mg/msh (PTI, AP, dpa)

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