India — A major fire that broke out in Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) in Odishas Mayurbhanj district a couple of days back has engulfed vast areas killing wild animals and destroying precious plants.
The fire is spreading fast to nearby forests with the STR authorities failing to control it with limited fire fighting mechanism. Locals said the fire which broke out initially in Jadapal section of Naana south range spread to Dhuduruchampa, Bhanjabasa, Gunduria, Podadiha and Sarua sections of Jenabil range.
The residents are scared as the fire is spreading towards the nearby human habitations. It is feared that wild animals living in these forest ranges could have been killed in the rampaging fire. Besides, valuable, rare and medicinal plants worth lakhs in hundreds of acres might have been reduced into ashes as no step could be immediately taken to douse the fire. A local tribal Krushna Tudu said this is the first forest fire this summer.
But we had never seen in such a huge magnitude. The fire has engulfed everything. There is no sight of any animal or creature. What is alarming is that the fire is spreading to other areas very rapidly. It would bring disaster for the human habitations too if not checked immediately, he said.
Flourishing in 2750 sq. km area, STR is the fourth largest tiger reserve in the country. The park is full of different species of flora and fauna. About 1,076 species of mammals, 29 types of reptiles and 231 species of birds are living in the tiger reserve. A forest official said the fire was spreading its deadly tentacles across the eastern and southern landscape of the pristine wildlife habitat.
It has reduced everything coming on its way to ashes. Even big trees have been reduced to cinder. Burnt remains of snakes, lizards, giant malabar squirrels and other small animals were seen lay scattered.
Even as the cause of fire is yet to be ascertained, sources said, when the forest floor is litter with highly inflammable dry leaves, the forest dwellers follow the age-old practice of igniting fire to keep the forest floor clear for facilitating easy collection of mahua flowers and sal seeds.
Wildlife activists said the practice of podu cultivation by the tribals is also one of the major reasons behind the outbreak of such forest fires. The poachers too use this method for poaching. They ignite fire and kill the animals when they run to safer areas trying to escape fire.
Though 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 spreads to a large area.
Regional Chief Conservator of Forests (RCCF) and Field Director of Similipal tiger reserve H K Bist said efforts were on to bring the fire under control. Suspecting the hands of some unscrupulous people behind the alarming fire incident, he said the fire fighting teams have been engaged to douse the fire and check it from further spreading.
It will take time to control the fire completely, he added urging the locals to join hands with the forest personnel to protect the forests.
Forest 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 data released by the Forest Survey of India on forest fire attribute around 50 percent of the forest areas as fire prone.