Central Nepal engulfed in smoke

Haze shrouds Bhaktapur on Monday afternoon as smoke from fires in Chitwan engulfed Kathmandu Valley and Central Nepal. Photo: AMIT MACHAMASI

Kathmandu Valley and Central Nepal was engulfed in thick haze on Monday afternoon as prevailing winds whipped up fires in Chitwan and Parsa National Parks.

Infrared satellite images from NASA’s FIRMS (Fire Information for Resource Management System) showed many fires raging at the eastern edge of Chitwan and across Parsa, in the vicinity of Hetauda, as well as in Bardia, Surkhet and other districts in the mid-mountains of western Nepal.

Forest fires in Chitwan and Parsa National Parks southwest of Kathmandu in this infrared image from NASA’s FIRMS satellite taken on Monday. Image: FIRMS/NASA

Another satellite image in the visible spectrum from NASA Worldview showed blue smoke shrouding Himalayan valleys of Central Nepal.

Image in the visual spectrum taken by NASA’s Worldview satellite on Monday at 2pm local time. Image: NASA Worldview

Air Quality Index measured in Patan in Kathmandu Valley at 4pm on Monday showed a hazardous reading of 421, which is more than ten times higher than the WHO's safe threshold. Photo: KUNDA DIXIT

The national parks allow buffer zone villagers to enter the protected areas once a year in spring to collect deadwood and thatch grass. Villagers sometimes set fire to the grasslands, and prevailing winds spread these blazes.

Deficient winter rain this year has made the forests in the Nepal Tarai drier than usual, which has led to the fires this year more extensive.

Kathmandu Valley recorded an Air Quality Index (AQI) reading of 421 at 4pm on Sunday, which is more than 10 times higher than the threshold set by the World Health Organisation for air safe for breathing.

In addition to the smoke, there was also pollution from traffic emissions, cross-border industrial smog from India, as well as wind-blown sand from the Arabian desert that has been covering the Subcontinent for the past week.

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