Major destruction

The fire in the foothills of Tirumala, which raged for many days, has been put out now with the combined efforts of civilian and defence authorities. The Seshachalam forests have high visibility because of the proximity to Tirupati temple and any untoward incident like fire draws immediate attention and invites action.

Even then the fire-fighting operation went on for many days and a large area of the forest was destroyed. Forests elsewhere are not so lucky and fires that rage for days are sometimes not noticed. Delayed action to douse the fire often finds that much damage has already been done.

In the last few weeks, the Bandipur national park and the Nagarhole tiger reserve in Karnataka and adjoining forest areas in Tamil Nadu and Kerala saw major destruction caused by fire. Even though it is claimed the fires have been controlled or extinguished, there are reports of fresh fires occurring in some places. Since areas in the three neighbouring states form a single extended forest, fire in one place moves on to other places. So the latest fire in the Wayanad area can spread fast to other areas.

Forest fires are common during the summer months from February to May and tens of thousands of hectares of forests are lost every year. Though natural phenomena like lighting or rubbing of bamboos or rocks ignite fire in some places, more often it is man-made.

Sometimes they are accidentally produced by forest settlers. Poachers or herders who want new pasture land, deliberately set fire to forests.  Actions of those who collect minor forest produce, hunters or careless visitors also create blazes which go out of control.

There is a widespread perception that forest authorities are sometimes complicit in the creation of fires. Indifference and inefficiency on their part in any case are major contributing factors. Preventive measures are not often taken at the beginning of the dry season. There is the need for continuous watch over areas susceptible to fire and this is not often done.

Methods to douse and prevent the spread of fire are not scientific and effective. Fire fighting forces cannot reach tankers in deep forests. Helicopters are not available for operations in many places. Such facilities and fire-fighting infrastructure should be strengthened in forests and officials should be held accountable for fire in areas under their charge. Longstanding forests and the wild life they contain should not be allowed to perish in a few hours.

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