Satellite imagery to be used to assess Bandipur forest fire damage

Satellite imagery to be used to assess Bandipur forest fire damage

16 March 2014

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India —  The Forest Department will use satellite imagery to ascertain the devastation wreaked by forest fires.

It is estimated that around 1,000 acres destroyed in Bandipur, while around 200 acres was lost on the fringes of Nagarahole in the latest fire on Thursday.

Though not on the scale of the fires that raged in the region in 2012, more fires cannot be ruled out in the days ahead as summer is beginning to set in, according to officials. The last time such major fires broke out in the Bandipur–Nagarahole belt was in 2012 when 2,158 hectares were lost in Bandipur while 2,080 hectares in Nagarahole was destroyed. The worst affected was BRT Tiger Reserve where more than 4,800 hectares of forest land was reduced to ashes. The authorities had refuted the figures initially and called them exaggerated, but satellite imageries and ground assessment proved the extent of damage.

Meanwhile, authorities have claimed to have brought the fires in the two national parks under control “for now”. Tourism in Bandipur will remain suspended on Sunday as the staff have been deployed for fire fighting. H.C. Kantharaj, Director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, said a decision would be taken on resuming tourism activities from Monday, depending on the ground situation.

The Forest Department has deployed 200 to 250 personnel, including volunteers who are maintaining a vigil in fire-prone areas of Kundagere, Maddur colony, Beerambahalli and around Himavad Gopalswamy Betta. Moolehole, which received some rainfall last week, is relatively safe.

However, tourism has not been affected by the fire at Nagarahole, according to Director R. Gokul. However, he was sceptical whether banning tourism activities would make a difference on the ground.

Mr. Gokul raised a few questions and said that “peak summer is in April when the Bandipur–Nagarahole forest belt is a tinder box. The reason for forest fires in the region before the end of the financial year is something that should be investigated”. “The investigation should also probe who are the people receiving money and from where,” he added.

“This is nothing short of a terrorist act and I have filed a complaint under the Goonda Act and The Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, and not under the Wildlife Protection Act,” said Mr. Gokul.

Complaint to be filed

Meanwhile, authorities in Bandipur will file a complaint against a few persons suspected of stoking the fire. Sources said a few people were prevented by forest guards from fishing in a local tank. It is suspected that they started the fire.

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