Kangchenjunga wildfire visible from space

A wildfire has been raging out of control for the past five days near the summit of Pathivara in Taplejung district. Photo: RSS

The raging wildfire in the forest on the 3,800m high Pathivara mountain in Taplejung has spread into the nearby Kanchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA). The fire started five days ago, and all efforts to douse it have been unsuccessful because of strong westerly winds.

A Simrik Air helicopter equipped with a special 'Bambi Bucket' water bombed the flames on Monday, and although that protected the temple at the summit of the mountain, it failed to stop the fire. The smoke plume from the fire raging near the shrine was visible in a NASA World satellite image on 26 December.

After the fire entered the KCA, the Lukumpa Community Forest committee got volunteers to try to control the spread. However, the rotor wash from the helicopter appears to have fanned the fires even more, and the water was dropped from a height that made it largely ineffective, said Ganesh Tiwari of KCA.

Police trying to douse the fire on the slopes of Pathivara on Monday. Photo: RSS

Simrik Air with 'Bambi bucket' trying to douse the fire even as smoke plume from Pathivara rise up in the air.

Smoke plume from the fire raging near shrine on summit was visible in this satellite image on 26 December at noon. Photo: EOSDIS Worldview

The Pathibhara fire captured in closeup by the Sentinel satellite on 28 December.

A Simrik Air helicopter lifts water from Jor Pokhari on Monday. The chopper made five sorties to the mountain. Photo: SIMRIK AIR

The Simrik Air helicopter made five sorties from the half-frozen Jor Pokhari lake to Pathivara, and did manage to save the shrine. However, several dairy farms and cow sheds are now threatened on the eastern slopes of the mountain.

A large tract of forest has already been reduced to ashes, in an area that is an important habitat for the endangered red panda and other species.

Simrik Air pilot Capt Surendra Poudel told RSS news agency that this is the first time aerial firefighting has been used to put out a wildfire in Nepal. He added: "We had the equipment and the trained personnel, and we could put it to use here."