A devastating forest fire has engulfed around 100 sq km of forests and wildlife area in Melghat-Gugamal tiger reserves in Amravati district, approximately 250 km from here.
The areas that have been badly affected are: Dhakna, Wan, Sonala and Somthana forest ranges of the region. Sources said most of the forest officials, particularly middle-ranking and senior personnel, are on leave since March 21. "The absence of staff has affected fire fighting efforts. Even incessant drizzle over the last two days, it has not helped us in any way to bring the fire under control," an official said.
The forest department said the area destroyed in the fire would be anything between 2,000 and 2,200 hectares of forestland.
A noted environmentalist, who visited the spot told Hindustan Times, on conditions of anonymity, that more than 50 sq km has been destroyed in the fire. "The fire continues to rage in most parts even on Tuesday evening. Not only have we lost forest areas but several species of wildlife were also affected," he said.
Environmentalist and secretary of Satpuda Foundation, Kishore Rithe, pointed out that almost all incidents of fire were man-made. "Some were done intentionally and some due to negligence. We have also witnessed incidents of fire due to carelessness of people who collect forest produces, particularly during the season when they collect Tendu leaf," Rithe said.
BS Hooda, the field director of Melghat Tiger project, however, said only 2,100 hectares of forests were destroyed due to the fire. "We are trying our level best to extinguishing the fire," he said and claimed that the fire affected a small area of the tiger project.