Indian Air Force's MI-17 helicopters that were being used to douse raging forest fires in Uttarakhand's Bhimtal and Pauri have had to return to base due to thick smoke and near zero visibility.

The raging fires have destroyed nearly 3,000 acres of forest cover and claimed seven lives.

Since early February, 922 incidents of forest fires have been reported in the state. A total of 6,000 personnel have been deployed to tackle the fires. These include three companies of the National Disaster Response Force or the NDRF, and personnel from the State Disaster Response Force and the Army.

Chamoli, Pauri, Rudraprayag, Tehri, Uttarkashi, Almora, Pithoragarh and Nainital have been worst-affected by the fires. Enough funds have been made available to all affected districts besides required personnel and equipment to deal with any situation, Raj Bhawan officials said in Dehradun on Saturday.

While three NDRF teams and one SDRF company are busy dousing flames in different parts of the state, two IAF choppers were sent to Nainital and Pauri districts to spray water over burning jungles, officials added.

"One MI-17 chopper has been stationed at Bhimtal near Nainital which is being loaded with water collected from water bodies in the area. It will spray water over affected areas from tomorrow," Chief Secretary Shatrughna Singh said on Saturday. Another IAF chopper was sent to Pauri.

Rudraprayag forest division is also taking help from the army for fire-fighting operations especially along the highway, he added.

(Feature image source: Twitter)