Inferno ravages Keibul Lamjao; Arson or wildfire, no answer yet…

Inferno ravages Keibul Lamjao; Arson or wildfire, no answer yet…

22 February 2009

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India — The only natural habitat of the rare Sangai (Brow Antlered deer), Keibul Lamjao National Park was ravaged by fire today.

According to the people of Keibul Lamjao Chingmei, the inferno broke out early morning today.

The origin of fire which spread to a large area of the Park, however could not be ascertained till the time of filing this report. On receiving information of the fire, a team of media persons rushed to the Park at about 4.30 pm.

On reaching the Park, the fire was seen burning extensively at Nongmaikhong, Ngakha Pat, Haorang side of the Park and Toya hills. On being observed from the watch tower installed at the southern side of Keibul Lamjao Tourist Home, it appeared that almost three quarters of the National Park covering about 40 sq kms have been ravaged by the fire.

In addition to being the only floating park and the lone natural habitat of rare and endangered species of deer, Sangai, in India Keibul Lamjao National Park is also a source of food (vegetables) for the surrounding villages.

At about 5.30 pm, Sangais were seen running beyond the fire lines made by Forest Department from the watch towers.

According to some women of Keibul Chingmei who went to Keibul Lamjao National Park to pluck/collect vegetable items today at about 11 am as usual, the fire was seen already spreading over an extensive area. They said that they sometimes saw fire in the Park but today’s fire was most ferocious and the most extensive in recent times. As the reporters were watching the fire on the last tower, several rounds of gun shots were heard.

After retreating from the Park, the media team interacted with villagers of Keibul Lamjao Chingmei.

The villagers said that gun shots might have been fired by the Army.

Even as an extensive area of the Park was ravaged by the fire, no responsible official of Forest Department came to assess the damage till late evening. Nevertheless, officials of the Department stationed at the Park moved in to control the fire though it went in vain.

One boatman of Forest Department, L Saratchandra said that reports of the fire was received at about 11 am. At about 12 noon, a team of five led by Forest Guard N Manimohon moved to the direction of Thangbaral Yanbi as another team led by Beat officer S Sonamani moved from the direction of Chingmei Nachan to control the fire. But they retreated unable to control the ravaging fire.

Notably, they did not take any equipment necessary for fighting fire.

Although they should have informed Fire Brigade, they did not do so as Moirang Fire station exists just for name’s sake, L Saratchandra said. After the two came out unable to control the fire, the Forest Ranger was informed about the fire, N Manimohon conveyed. However, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest S Singsit said that a team of Forest Department officials including District Forest Officer and Rangers have rushed to the park to assess the damage. Saying that they have not received any report of Sangai dying in the fire, S Singsit said that details of the incident would be known only after the official team submit their reports.

Incidentally, an official team of Wildlife Institute of India has been conducting a survey at the Park at present.

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