(G.N.S) Dt. 17
After a season of copious rains, the dry period of the past month has once again raised the spectre of forest fires in the State.
Since December 28, the Forest Survey of India’s fire alert system — which sends SMS to stakeholders based on sightings onboard two earth-observing satellites — has been ringing almost constantly. In nearly two weeks, over 324 fire alerts have been sent. More than a third were from Uttara Kannada and Shivamogga districts.
According to forest officials, while most of the alerts reflect the creation of fire lines (where controlled fires are started to provide breaks in the forest in case of fires), the threat of forest fires remains. While prolonged drought turned forests into tinderboxes last year, this year the good rains have resulted in a grass takeover of the landscape, which as the dry season continues could turn brittle and flammable.
It was in February last year that thousands of acres were destroyed, and one forest staff member killed, in multiple forest fires in tiger reserves. The outrage over blazes continuing to destroy tracts of forest even forced the Chief Minister to hold a series of meetings, which led to the Forest Department submitting a ₹28-crore fire management plan in October.
However, till now the funds haven’t been released. “The proposal came in October and we need to get clearance from the Finance Department. But, what is for certain is that money will not be an issue in case of an emergency. Curtailing forest fires is a priority,” said Vandita Sharma, Additional Chief Secretary (Forests, Ecology and Environment), only stating she would have to check on the status of the matter.
Meanwhile, many tiger sanctuaries have missed the deadline for making fire lines (December 31). For instance, at BRT the late-season rains have increased the soil moisture, making it difficult to mark fire lines, and nearly a quarter of the lines remain. However, officials say as the dry season continues, the lines will be cleared.
“The officials concerned have been asked to hire the labour needed for vigilance and [for] clearing lines, and hire jeeps that can be fitted with water tankers in case of a fire. Moreover, as we have been conducting outreach programmes for villagers in the fringes, we hope for their help in preventing fires. The aim this time is zero fires,” said Punati Shridhar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife).
(G.N.S) Dt. 17