There seems to be a Chinese twist to the forest fires raging across an uncharacteristically dry Northeast this year. Meteorologists attributed the dry spell to moisture-laden winds from the Bay of Bengal veering off towards Tibet instead of precipitating over the Northeast.
Debakanta Handique, director of Regional Meteorological Centre here, confirmed: “Only the Tawang region in Arunachal Pradesh and a couple of places in Assam received 2.2 mm of pre-monsoon rainfall this month, much below the annual average of 25 mm.”
Barely a month after a blaze devoured one-fifth of the Keibul Lamjao National Park in Manipur’s Bishnupur district, forest fires have been reported from at least five places in Arunachal Pradesh.
This comes after the seasonal burning of elephant grass — it is carried out every year to help new growth — threatened to go out of control in Kaziranga National Park.
Arunachal authorities fear the fires might have claimed many endangered animals. “We have sent forest guards and rangers to stop the fires,” wildlife officer Jumto Riba said, admitting, however, that his department was ill-equipped to combat fire in inaccessible areas.
Although officials are yet to assess the damage and ascertain the cause of the fires, locals blame it on the slash-and-burn method of cultivation. Residents claim it has been raining ashes and burnt leaves over the town.
It even forced Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu to urge the people to desist from shifting cultivation.
Earlier, Manipur forest officials claimed that no sangai (brow-antlered deer) was killed or hurt in the fire in Keibul Lamjao. The endangered deer is found nowhere else in the world. But wildlife activists said the fire — ignited by fishermen who ignored the ban on fishing inside the park — could have killed other species such as wild hogs and barking deer.