India — The city is reeling under a heat wave, having registered the hottest March day since 1956. This has meant a rise in the number of forest fires at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), spread over 104 sq km.
Since January 2011, it has witnessed around 25 such cases. The biggest fire incident of the season took place last week when an area of around 8,000 sq ft was destroyed, causing immense damage to the flora and fauna of the national park.
That was just one of the many incidents. We have been witnessing such cases from January on a regular basis. This is a Dry Deciduous Forest. The dry leaves that fall on the ground catch fire which spreads speedily. Moreover, it becomes difficult to douse the fires because of the hilly geography, said Krushna Tiwari, conservation officer, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
He added that the park has no boundary wall, and people roam inside freely. Even a spark from a cigarette or a bidi is enough to start a fire. At the same time, the forest department is not equipped with the latest technology to counter the fire. The same old methods are being used, he said.
According to Dr PN Munde, director of SGNP, forest fires are a common occurrence during the summer. We have been working out a plan to counter this threat. There has been a team of forest officers and guards working on this. I am personally monitoring the operations, he said.
According to him, there are a number of factors that lead to forest fires, an important one being certain superstitious practices that people follow. They feel that burning the old, dry grass will help the growth of the new grass. The forest department is taking efforts to overcome these odds, he said.
The forest department has formed a team of 125 people to keep a vigil in the area. According to Tiwari, increasing awareness among locals is the best way to counter this threat.