India– BALASORE: Fire in two major forest reserves has engulfed vast areas endangering life of animals. The forest fire was started in Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) in Mayurbhanj district and Kuldiha wildlife sanctuary in Balasore district a couple of days back. A total of 500 hectares (ha) in both the forest reserves has been damaged.
In Kuldiha, the fire spread to Sinduria, Jodachua, Mundiahudi, Badasal and Balianal areas and Debakunda, Polamdar, Maruadibandh, ED-13 and Balama area in Similipal.
While the Kuldiha sanctuary is spread over an area of 272.75 sq km, Similipal biosphere reserve comprises 2,750 sq km.
It is feared that wild animals living in Karanjia buffer zone, Bangriposhi and Pithabata ranges would have died in the fire. Besides, valuable, rare and medicinal plants worth lakhs of rupees might have been damaged as no step could be taken immediately to douse the fire.
Sanatan Murmu, a tribal residing near the Similipal forest, said the fire was first spotted on Monday. This is the first forest fire this summer. What is alarming is that the fire is spreading to other areas very fast. It would bring disaster if not checked immediately, he said.
Last year, the forest fire in Similipal had made headlines as a few news channels aired satellite images of the fire putting the forest officials in a fix. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) also had recommended a few measures to check the fire. These have not been implemented.
Sources said when the forest floor is covered with dry leaves, the forest dwellers follow the age-old practice of setting them afire to keep the floor clear.
This would facilitate easy collection of Mahua flowers and Sal seeds. As per norms while the forest officials should regularly check it and maintain the fire line, they are seen coming to douse the fire only after it spread to larger areas.
PODU CULTIVATION: A researcher Prasanta Padhi said the practice of podu cultivation by tribals is one of the major reasons behind the outbreak of such forest fires. He also claimed that the poachers too use this method for poaching.
Fires are a major cause of degradation of forests in the State. The normal fire season in Odisha is from February to mid- June. The Forest Survey of India data on forest fire, however, attributes around 50 per cent of the forest area as fire prone.
Meanwhile, the fire fighters are having a tough time to check the fire in Similipal and Kuldiha. We have formed 10 fire fighting teams to check the fire from spreading. It will take time to bring the fire under control, said a forest official.