Terrain turbulence affects Dzukou Valley fire fighting

IAF choppers locate lake near Manipur-Nagaland border which saves 15-20 minutes of flying time

Turbulence because of terrain, controllability of chopper with 3,500 litres of water in a specialised bucket dangling from a 23-ft cable and pinpointing target for spraying it have affected the operation to douse a wildfire on the Manipur-Nagaland border.

The fire at the Dzukou Valley, a popular trekking and adventure destination, started a week ago. Within 24 hours from December 31, the IAF engaged four choppers for the fire-fighting mission following a request from the Nagaland government.

But taming the fire has literally turned out to be an uphill task despite several sorties, 12 of them on Monday, though water sprayed from the sky in Bambi Buckets and seven teams of National Disaster Response Force on the ground have doused the flames in more than 60% of the area.

“The IAF helicopters continued with the Dzukou Valley operations and ferried 3,310 kg of fire-fighting equipment and the NDRF personnel to the affected area from Zakhama near Kohima on Wednesday,” Kohima-based Defence spokesperson Lt. Col. Sumit Sharma said.

Of the seven NDRF teams comprising 100 personnel, three approached the affected area from near Essi hills in Kohima district and four from Mao in Manipur’s Senapati district.

Officials in the two States said the wildfire has so far destroyed about 200 acres of forest, including the vegetation on Mount Iso, Manipur’s highest peak at 2,994 metres above sea level. The Valley averages 2,450 metres in altitude.

“Flying a Bambi Bucket is a complex process and the stability of a chopper is compromised because of the weight of the water, though pilots are trained for this. There is also the turbulence factor while flying over hills of varying altitudes where the air temperature changes,” an IAF officer said.

“Unlike in the plains, pinpointing the water on a target in the turbulence-prone hills from a safe height is difficult. The choppers also have to refuel more frequently as they cannot fill up because of the weight of water dangling in the bucket below,” the officer added.

Lt. Col. Sharma said the choppers initially had to fly 15-20 minutes to the affected area after filling up the Bambi Buckets — designed to fill up after being dipped in water for releasing later — from a lake near Dimapur, Nagaland’s commercial hub bordering Assam.

“The choppers are now filling up water from a lake near the Manipur-Nagaland border. The flying time has reduced drastically, allowing more sorties in a day,” he said.

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