99 wildfires in Kerala this year; 15 raging. Forest Dept pulls out all stops

18 February 2020

Published by https://www.newindianexpress.com

INDIA – KOCHI:  With summer getting intense, there has been a spurt in incidents of wildfire across the state — 99 this year — and the Forest Department is pulling out all stops to douse it. Sources told TNIE that 15 wildfires are now raging at various locations in the state. A major fire, spreading in Neriyamangalam range for the past three days, was doused with the help of fire force and volunteers on Monday evening. Around 50 forest staff and volunteers were deployed to bring it under control.

The incident at Desamangalam in Thrissur district, where three forest watchers lost their lives fighting the wildfire, has come as a shock for the department. “The fire started in the land that was leased to the Hindustan Newsprint Ltd (HNL) for plantation. On January 30 last year, there was a fire in the same plantation. As HNL was shut down, the plantation was in an abandoned state, due to which the fire outbreak went unnoticed in the beginning,” said an officer.

‘Majority of wildfires are triggered by miscreants’

“MOST wildfires are set off by miscreants. This time we had opened a control room at our headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram on December 20 itself. Though there were no incidents in that month, 99 incidents of wildfires have been reported till date,” said an officer. “We had conducted a massive drive to clear the fire lines inside the forest in December- January as a precaution. The grasslands in the forest have dried up and as the temperature is high, the chances of wildfire have gone up.

Once the fire breaks out, it’s very difficult to control it,” he said. The Forest Survey of India identifies the wildfire with the help of satellite images and alerts the state forest departments which helps to identify the exact location. But it will take four to six hours to receive the alert. Around 25 hectares of forest was destroyed in fire in Mullaringad range under Kothamangalam division. “The temperature is rising and chances of fire in rocky terrain is high. If we don’t get a good spell of summer rain, the situation will turn grave,” said Kothamangalam DFO S Unnikrishnan.

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