Aarey fire doused after 14 hours, environment minister asks police to start probe
The Mumbai fire brigade took more than 14 hours to completely put out the fire that broke out near Aarey Milk Colony on Monday evening.
State officials said the fire started on a private plot of land, owned by a real estate developer, and later spread to the Aarey Colony land. The fire brigade said there were no human or animal deaths.
It was not clear if forest land was also affected, but for now, the state’s environment minister, Ramdas Kadam, has asked the police to conduct a probe. Maharashtra’s forest minister, Sudhir Mungantiwar, said land under the Sanjay Gandhi National Park was not affected. The state government has also asked the dairy development commissioner to submit a report, as Aarey Colony is owned by state’s dairy development department.
According to the fire brigade, the fire was first reported at 6.21pm on Monday. It spread rapidly by 8.05 pm and was finally doused only on Tuesday morning, at 8.48am. Although the fire had been brought under control by 10.30 pm on Monday night, ambers in the bushes posed a danger of the fire spreading again.
As fire tenders could not access the forest, firemen had to beat out the fire, that had spread over an area of about 3km to 4km.
“As per the preliminary reports, the fire took place on land belonging to a private developer. The land owned by dairy development department has not sustained any losses. If the report submitted by the dairy development commissioner found any losses or foul play, we will order a separate inquiry into the fire incident,” said a top official from the dairy development department, requesting anonymity. “These types of cases of setting tall grass on fire to clean up land are reported in winter every year. It leads to losses to the ecology, but this time, it is not on our land.”
Environment minister Ramdas Kadam said he has written to the Mumbai police asking them to conduct a probe. “Was it just a stray incident or was the fire set on purpose? It needs to come out. As the environment minister, I am directing the Mumbai police to conduct a thorough probe. I will also ask the state dairy development department, which owns the land, to investigate,”Kadam said.
Forest minister Mungantiwar said the land affected by the fire was owned by the dairy development department and they too will investigate the cause of the fire. “A part of the plot where the fire broke out belongs to a private owner. Even if it is a case of sabotage, as alleged by activists, either the police or the department concerned must investigate.”
While the Mumbai fire brigade has dealt with several minor and major fires in the concrete jungle, dealing with a blaze inside the Aarey forest fire was a challenge, said Chief Fire Officer, PS Rahangdale. “It was definitely one of the biggest forest fires in the city. We could not use water deep inside the forest and so we used the beaters to beat the fire. We also cut down the shrubs and bushes to contain the fire and let it burn out,”he said.
Deputy Chief Fire officer VN Panigrahi, who was on the field, said, “In addition to no access, the wind was also a challenge. It was directing the fire towards the residential areas and so we immediately directed our fire appliances towards New Mhada Colony, Goregaon (East) where the fire was proceeding. We had to create teams of fire fighters and volunteers to beat the fire with the help of green bushes.”
Panigrahi added the uneven terrain and hilly area was a challenge. “We kept five fire engines and two jumbo tankers on standby near the residential area as a precautionary measure, although the fire was far away.”
About 50-60 firemen, 20 volunteers from the forest department and local civic ward workers helped beat the fire. Ten fire engines, seven jumbo tankers and three quick response vehicles were used in the operation.