Fire rages across eco-sensitive Pallikaranai marsh for 5 hours

Fire rages across eco-sensitive Pallikaranai marsh for 5 hours

20 March 2011

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India — Pallikaranai marshland, one of the most ecologically sensitive patches in the city that attracts migratory birds, was on fire Saturday evening. Several nesting migratory birds are feared killed.

Passersby noticed the fire on a patch opposite Kamakshi Memorial Hospital around 4pm and alerted fire service and forest officials. “The fire spread along two lines up to about 100 metres each. Then there were about a dozen smaller patches of fire,” said zoologist RJ Ranjit Daniels who witnessed the fire. Pallikaranai forest range officer S Ramdas said patches adding to more than 10 acres of the protected 200-acre marshland were burnt.

Residents in the neighbourhood said fire service personnel came only around 5.30pm, more than an hour after they were informed. Even after fire tenders reached the spot, there was little they could do, as the vehicles could not get into the slushy marshland. “It is a wet land,” said a resident, “someone must have set the fire.” The forest range officer said it was quite possible that the fire was man-made.

Some residents said they heard loud crackling noise as the fire spread. “Due to the thick smoke and heat, I couldn’t go near,” said Seshan, a local resident.

Several birds, staying back after the migratory season, are feared killed. “Either they have been burnt to death or killed by the intense smoke,” said Daniels, who works for Care Earth, a city-based NGO. Seepage of methane from decomposed waste could have fuelled the fire further, he added. The wetland is a fresh water swamp home to hundreds of varieties of plants, birds, reptiles and fishes.

The thick smoke had affected visibility on the roads, affecting vehicles, especially two wheeler riders. Firemen said they could not get near the fire because of the smoke and spread of the fire. A few forest workers finally got into the swamp and tried to put out the fire using green branches. After raging for about five hours, the fire appeared to be dying around 9pm.

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