INDIA – Forest fires have been reported continuously in Telangana for the past seven days. This season, Nagarkurnool lost 666.88 hectares of forest area to fires, Nirmal lost 616.32 hectares and Nizamabad lost 555.498 hectares, according to data from the Forest Department. Though the Forest Survey of India portal shows 410 instances of fires over the past seven days, the number is reportedly closer to 364.
Officials with the Forest Department say that this is because of the way in which the fires are recorded. “The satellites pick up heat levels for the whole state and we have to disseminate data mandal-wise. A notification alert goes directly to the officer in charge of the area. The officers on the ground go and check physically,” said Mohan Chandra Pargaien, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests.
“The forest fire season starts in December and peaks during April and lasts until May end,” he added.
He also added that there are very few natural forest fires in Telangana. “About 80 to 90% of forest fires in the state are man-made,” he said.
According to the officer, one of the key reasons for forest fires in the state is that people burn forest lands to get new leaves for their cattle and to obtain agricultural land. “The fresh leaves are of greater quality for the cattle.There is also instances of people setting fire to shurbs growing Tendu leaves for making beedies.The fresh leaves are of better quality, but the fire often spreads to the forest. Another reason is accidental fires by shepherds lighting fires to cook food or to keep warm. Then there are forest encroachments, where people set fire to trees to clear the area,” he said.
On March 3, about 10 acres of tiger habitat in the Amrabad Tiger Reserve falling in Nagarkurnool district was gutted. The Times of India reported that locals first noticed the fire near the Neelaram Banda region of the Domalapenta forest range at 11.30 pm and alerted forest officials.
The Field Officer for Amrabad Tiger Reserve, B Srinivas, told TNM that they arrived at the location of the fire at 11.50 pm. The fire was contained past 1 am on March 4.
“We can never say if the fire is man-made, nor can we say it was deliberate as there is never any evidence. We can only suspect the cause of the fire,” said Srinivas, who has formed six response parties to mitigate forest fires. “They are well-equipped, have proper gear and they have been deployed at strategic locations. We have been able to contain the fires within no time,” he added.
In February 2020, the same forest area lost six hectares (roughly 15 acres) of dry grasslands to fires. Officials then suspected the fire to have been caused by an unstubbed cigarette.
“There have been small instances of fires being reported every day for the past week in this region, this is seasonal. There are several villages inside the reserve area so fire accidents are bound to happen,” said Srinivas, who added that the forest department has also carried out awareness camps for the tribal communities. The officer said the awareness camps were unsuccessful to get the communities to curtailing practices that lead to forest fires.
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