Shimla : Summer fires in Himachal’s grasslands and forests have caused 378 incidents, mainly in the low hills, and destroyed flora and fauna in over 3,000 hectares, a senior forest official said on Monday.

But a major relief is store, with the state’s weather department forecasting rain on Tuesday.

“The sudden rise in mercury and the prolonged dry spell are mainly the reasons for these forest fires. Most of the fire-related cases are from the Shivalik ranges in Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Kangra, Solan and Sirmaur districts and a majority of them are ground fires,” principal chief forest conservator S.P. Vasudeva told IANS.

Records of the forest department said 22 percent or 8,267 sq.km of the total forest area in the state is fire-prone. A majority of the fires were reported from the pine forests since during summer, the trees shed pine needles that are highly inflammable due to the rich content of turpentine oil.

The pine forests are found up to an altitude of 5,500 feet.

Forest fires have also threatened the existence of the world heritage Kalka-Shimla rail line at several points near Dharampur town, 65 km from here.

“Both sides of the track were under fire but the fire was doused after some hours. The rail traffic was affected for sometime but now normal traffic has been restored,” a senior Indian Railways official said.

The Kalka-Shimla rail track was built by the British in 1903 to ferry Europeans to and from this hill town, the erstwhile summer capital of British India. It was included in the Unesco list of world heritage sites in 2008.

A total of 671 fire incidents had destroyed 5,733 hectares of forests in 2015-16. The worst was 2012-13 when 1,798 fire incidents were reported and forest wealth on 20,763 hectares was destroyed. Billowing smoke from the hills of Shimla, Kasauli, Chail, Dharampur and Nahan towns have become common these days.

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