Devotees suspect in Dalma forest fire

Devotees suspect in Dalma forest fire

24 February 2009

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India — The forest department has given itself another 24 hours to contain the blaze that broke at the Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary on Sunday, apparently due to a devotees’ torch-lit procession for Mahashivratri.

Senior forest department officials camping at Dalma since yesterday maintained that the fire broke out due to the negligence of devotees. During Mahashivratri, a large number of devotees offer prayers at the Shiv temple, atop the Dalma hill.

This year, around 75,000 devotees visited the temple against the 40,000 last year.

“Most devotees start trekking at night, a day before the festival begins, and use handmade torches (pieces of cloth wrapped on a stick and lit). It is possible that the fire originated from the torches,” a forest official said.

The inferno, he added, could have also originated from a bonfire made by the devotees.

Divisional forest officer (DFO, wildlife) Siddhartha Tripathy, who was at the forest, said: “The fire originated on the trekking path at Baliguma and Gerua, which is used by devotees.” However, it covered only 30m-40m of the forest area and was brought under control soon.

According to Tripathy, a five-member squad comprising villagers and members of the Van Suraksha Samiti were helping them douse the flames.

“The fire is under control and would be put out by tomorrow,” added Tripathy, who is also the deputy conservator of the forest.

Conceding the fire caught forest officials unaware, divisional forest officer, Dhalbhum, A.T. Mishra, said they have stepped up moves in Dalma to create a 250km fire line that acts as a “line of control” to ensure fires don’t spread.

“Forest fires are common during the summer. However, this fire started before we could demarcate the fire line,” he said. “Forest areas in Jharkhand are limited to the ground and are triggered by dry leaves.”

The department is also inquiring into allegations that an ousted president of the village forest committee had even tried to sabotage fire fighting measures.

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