India — DHENKANAL: The forest fires that have been ravaging Dhenkanal forests for the past one month are yet to be brought under control. Hundreds of acres of forests have been affected by devastating fires. Though there is much speculation over� the cause of the fire, sources said it was probably man-made; 90 per cent fires in the forests are started by locals inhabiting the forest areas, willingly or unwillingly. Sources added the fires could have also been started by poachers to divert attention from their illegal activities.
Last week, fire destroyed a major portion of the forest under Megha reserve forest. Eyewitnesses said the wild animals were spotted fleeing to Paniohala hills.
Prior to this, 14 elephants were trapped in the raging fire in the Baruna mountain in Kankadahada block. They had a narrow escape.
Fire is still continuing at Baruna, Ranjagarh and Anantpur reserve forest putting in danger rare animals. The situation becomes easy for poachers to hunt wild animals and birds.
�Though the Forest Department claimed to be taking corrective measures, the hot and dry conditions, coupled with extensive dry vegetation, are helping the poachers start fires easily and escape. The fire is spreading rapidly, making fire-fighting operations extremely difficult.
The situation is precarious for people residing in the foothills of Megha hills, Paniohala, Baruna and Anantpur.
�Environmentalists said the forest officials are ill-equipped to handle forest fires and there is little coordination between them and members of Vana Surakhya Samitis.
�DFO S K Dalai said the forest office had bought some fire extinguishers and kept a vehicle standby for emergency situations. Satellite assessment is on to ascertain the extent of loss, he said.
Rain, locals believe, is the only hope but with the monsoon two months away they have kept fingers crossed.