Three women were charred to death and at least two others sustained burn injuries in forest fires which are raging in famous Tipeshwar wildlife sanctuary since Wednesday afternoon in Yavatmal district, bordering Andhra Pradesh.
According to reports, around 10 villagers, belonged to nearby village, Pitapungri, went to the wildlife sanctuary on Wednesday evening for collecting firewood. About six-seven villagers were trapped in the devastating fire and of them, three women were burnt alive following the fire. The deceased were identified as Subhadra Janpat Meshram (40), Chandrakala Ramrao Sidam (35) and Sheela Maroti Pandor (18). One of the injured villagers was identified as Ravindra Koru Dandane (35) while the identity of another one is yet to be ascertained. Both of them were rushed to the Yavatmal civil hospital, reports added.
Sources informed that the fires swept fast through more than 800 hectares of forest within a few hours, ravaging many trees in the area. It has still not receded and spreading fast due to strong winds blowing in the sanctuary. This is probably for the first time when villagers became victims of forest fire in Vidarbha. What exactly triggered the fire has not been ascertained yet.
Forest fires have an adverse impact on the ecology. A large number of arboreal creatures as also insects and reptiles could have been died in the conflagration. A number of the small animals had died owing to their inability to escape from the blaze. It is estimated that more than 500 hectares of green cover could have been lost in the fire, reports further claimed.
Villagers alleged that the wildlife sanctuary officials did not create fire lines at several places in the area which are mandatory for them. Fire lines prevent the fire from spreading to other areas.
“We got the information about the fire late last night and immediately sent a team there to extinguish it. We are increasing manpower there against the blazes,” informed Kishore Mishrikotkar, the assistant conservator of forests, Vidarbha region. He admitted that hundreds hectare of forest of the sanctuary were badly hit by the raging fire.
Mishrikotkar rushed to the spot with a team of senior officials on Thursday to take assess the damage caused to the villagers and the wildlife. “I am on my way to Tipeshwar and will be able to give you the details only after visiting the spot,” he further informed.
Another fire engulfed the famous Tadoba-Andhari tiger project. Huge areas of buffer zone of the tiger project near Mul were affected following the fire that broke out on Wednesday morning, reports reaching here said. Tadoba had earlier also suffered extensive damage following fires. Almost all ranges in the reserves had borne the brunt of the fire.
This is second such case in Tadoba this year. “Such cases may increase in the coming months as the leaves will dry up,” Mishrikotkar said.
Tipeshwar wildlife sanctuary is around 200 kms from Nagpur, bordering Andhra Pradesh, in Yavatmal district. It covers an area of 148.63 sq kms and is the home of more than five tigers, along with many other important wildlife animals as leopards, sloth bear, hyenas, jungle cats and black-buck.
Tipeshwar sanctuary is set in a hilly area. So, it features different types of vegetation in the different parts. Many villagers surround the sanctuary and thus there is constant conflict between human and animal interests. Villagers want their undue share from timber, bamboo, firewood and minor forest produce collection.