India — What Barunei hills saw on Wednesday evening, forests in border areas of Dhenkanal and Angul witnessed too. In Similipal, wildfire was but a regular phenomenon in the past.
Forest fires are not uncommon in Orissa, their timing this year is. Even as a formal investigation into what triggered the fire at Barunei starts, there are apprehensions that the unprecedented hot conditions signalling early onset of a scorching summer may have the answer.
During the October-February period, forests receive mild rain that prevents occurence of wildfire. This has been absent this time around. In fact, going by Forest Department sources, fire incidence is recorded only from March. Certainly not during February.
Human follies, which are behind 90 per cent of the wildfire, seem aided by the prevailing hot conditions this year.
Every year, Forest Survey of India shares information with the State Government about the forests vulnerable to such fires and also supplies data on affected regions. Annually, forest cover over about 8,000 hectare is affected by the fire.
Incidentally, forest fires in Orissa are mostly reported from pockets where podu or shifting cultivation is practised. Districts like Kandhamal, Boud, Rayagada, Gajapati and parts of Koraput are where shifting cultivation is pursued.
Besides, the vast Similipal was also a very vulnerable area till the Forest Department intensified its vigilance against people causing the fire during the last three to four years.
There are fire protection squads in all forest divisions that carry out the surveillance so that the mobile teams can be put into action but manpower as well as technical expertise is limited.
However, department is attempting to identify people who cause such fires in search of livelihood. Kendu leaf pluckers and collectors of the minor forest produce use wild fire to their advantage.
“Since it is mostly an economic activity, we try to incentivise the people through dialogues using the village committees. By providing an alternative source of livelihood, we attempt to reduce the factors that lead to forest fire,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Suresh Chandra Mohanty said.
Besides, the Department also maintains the fire lines that act as a major deterrent. Approximately there are 5,000 km of fire line in Orissa and every year, about 1500 km is maintained by the squads.
As is the case with rest of the country, ground fire, not crown fire, which occurs in Orissa.