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India battle to douse forest fires

Do Not UseDo Not Use 2/05/2016

Thousands of people are battling deadly forest fires in India's northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.

At least six people have died in the fires, which have burned more than 1,900 hectares (4,700 acres) of forest, officials said.

The fires broke out a month ago, but intensified in recent days with more than 400 burning simultaneously.

They have not yet hit Himalayan tourist towns, but villagers say that smoke has affected air quality and visibility.

The Uttarakhand fires in numbers

1,218 separate fire incidents in the last month

427 simultaneous fires have been burning since the weekend

1,900 hectares (4,700 acres) of forest destroyed

Officials say fires have been widespread this year because the forest is exceptionally dry due to low rainfall.

"This can be compared with the worst fire of 2012," said Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar.

The Indian air force has used helicopters to help douse the flames, although low visibility caused by smoke has limited their deployment, local media reported.

But the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), which is co-ordinating the fire-fighting effort, reports that satellite imagery indicates that 70% of the flames have been put out.

The director general of the agency, OP Singh, told the PTI news agency that they have managed to bring down the number of fires from 427 to 110-115 locations.

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The fires come as India suffers one of its worst droughts in years. The government says 330 million are now affected by water shortages.

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