India — The Andhra Pradesh Forest Department plans to set up buffer zones in the Seshachalam Range around the famous Sri Venkateswara Swamy temple in Tirumala, to protect the hill-top shrine from forest fires.
Fires had ravaged the forests around the temple about a fortnight ago, coming as close as six kilometers to Hinduisms most visited and wealthiest shrine. It is estimated that about 500 hectares of forests, some with rare species of flora were destroyed by the flames. Helicopters were called in to halt the blaze.
Mr. A.V. Joseph, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, speaking to me from Hyderabad, over phone, said that the buffer zones of between five and twenty metres width would be set up in the forests to prevent the spread of fires. The zones, known as fire-lines, would segregate the forest area at regular intervals and act as a brake to stop the spread of the fire. All combustible material would be removed from these zones, and forest department officials would regularly comb the areas to ensure that they remained free of inflammable items, including shrubs and bushes.
He said these zones would be set up in the entire Seshachalam Range, covering an area of about 750 square kilometers.
He further said the fires were not an act of arson, as it sometimes happens in Australia and North America. Some pilgrims could have inadvertently set off the blaze, as it was difficult to control the movement of people inside the Seshachalam Range, he added.
He said the department would plant some species of flora, while many others would regenerate naturally in the fire-ravaged areas after the rains. Most of the wild animals would have escaped to safer areas during the fire. Only a few slow-moving creatures would have perished, he added.