Similipal blaze contained, Odisha asks for rapid response to forest fires
Even as the state government claimed that the fire in the Similipal biosphere reserve of Odisha's Mayurbhanj district was under control with 1000 plus men of the forest department on the job, it sounded an alarm for the lack of response by the staff in responding to the rising incidents of fire.
“Although the FSI fire point incidences reported are very high during this month they have not been responded / attended to immediately which is a matter of concern. It is seen that about 60% of the reported fire points have only been responded to. It is imperative that all the fire points in the field are attended on priority basis and the forest fire should be extinguished immediately before it spreads to adjoining forest areas. All out efforts should be made for prevention of forest fires through effective foot patrolling, surveillance and sensitization of Vana Suraksha Samiti members and forest dwellers,” the state forest department said in a letter to all divisional forest officers on Thursday.
The fire in Similipal biosphere reserve came at a time when Odisha topped the list of forest fire incidents with 8688 fire spots since February 25 as per the Forest Survey of India’s fire alerts system based on SNPP (Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership). Telangana came a distant second with 1769 fires in the same time. Odisha also saw 11,708 forests fires since November 1 last year, the highest among all the states.
In Dhenkanal district, few elephants were reported to be trapped inside a forest as a fire broke out in a part of the Hindol forest range on Thursday. As the scared elephants started trumpeting in fear, people in nearby villages rushed out of their homes fearing an attack.
Regional chief conservator of forests of Baripada circle, M Yogajayananda said despite 428 incidents of fire in the reserve since February first week, the situation is under control. “The chief wildlife warden had visited the core area of the Similipal tiger reserve and found no casualties of any wild animals. The fires were reported only in areas on the fringe of the reserve. These are not continuous fires that we see in places like US or Australia, but sporadic fires that are caused due to anthropogenic factors. Today we got reports of 26 active fires and we are in the process of controlling the fire” he said.
The biosphere reserve spread over an area of 5569 sq km contributes 38% of the total protected area network in Odisha. It is also one of the oldest tiger reserves in the country having the largest zone of Sal trees.
However, conservationists working in Similipal that are among the few included by the UNESCO in its list of critical biosphere reserves of the world alleged that several orchids and medicinal plants may have been burnt by the fire.
“It would take some time before the losses can be counted. It's too early for anyone to say that there have been no losses,” alleged conservationist Vanoomitra Acharya in Baripada.
The forest department meanwhile has asked all DFOs to submit a daily report on the number of fire points in their respective divisions.
“The Range officers have to ensure that all the fire point incidences should be attended within one hour of reporting and the Range Officer should submit a certificate on a daily basis to the DFO that all the fire points reported have been attended within one hour of reporting failing which the DFO should intimate the same to the PCCF. 3. The DFOs should ensure that the fire points responded / attended must be uploaded in the OFMS portal on a daily basis,” the department instructed all DFOs.