Massive and widespread fires had been devouring the pristine forests close to Mt Japfu in Kohima, Nagaland, since 31 Jan and causing widespread destruction to the flora and fauna. While the efforts put in by the State Govt of Nagaland to contain the fires have fructified in certain areas, a large portion of forested area east of Mt Japfu is largely inaccessible by foot and continues to smolder.
On request from the state administration, the newly acquired Mi-17 V5 helicopter of the Indian Air Force was pressed into action using the Forest Fire Fighting Equipment, euphemistically called “The Bambi Bucket”. The helicopter was positioned at Rangapahar, close to Dimapur, late evening on 3rd Feb and commenced operations from daybreak on 4th Feb.
The first sortie was devoted to carrying out a detailed aerial assessment of the general area, the extent of the fire and most importantly, an open source of water. Having identified a small lake near Dimapur as the source, the helicopter dunked a collapsible Bambi Bucket in the lake and hauled up about 2500 kg of water. With the Bambi bucket which was hanging about 25 m below its belly, the helicopter, captained by Group Captain Mukesh Kumar Yadav of the IAF, dispensed its load of 2500 kg of water over the raging fires below, at a height of almost 10000 ft. The task was even more arduous owing to the restricted area from where the water was picked up and the strong winds of 40-60 kmph with the attendant turbulence. The helicopter, flying from morning till evening, managed to undertake five such sorties and was instrumental in dowsing part of the fire which was in two inaccessible pockets of about 1-2 square km each. By the end of the day, about 25000 kg of water has been dropped over the affected area. Owing to the extent of the fire and destruction caused by it, the Indian Air Force decided to press in one more Mi-17 V5 for the task on 5th Feb. Three more sorties were carried out by noon on 5th Feb and the major part of the fire brought under control.
It would be pertinent to note that this is the first time in the history of our country that helicopter are being utilised for fighting forest fires. In addition to being instrumental in containing a potentially catastrophic environmental disaster, presence of IAF helicopter is a veritable morale booster for the local populace. The Indian Air Force, after proving its mettle in bringing succor to scores of people after the flash floods in Uttarakhand in April last year, has once again risen to the occasion and added a pioneering chapter in Disaster Relief Operations. The Indian Air Force reaffirms its commitment towards Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations in support of the nation.