Fighting tirelessly for over five days with help from Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters, the Karnataka Forest Department on Tuesday succeeded in dousing the raging forest fire in Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy will conduct an aerial survey of the damage to the forest on Wednesday.
The effort of the forest department, IAF and several field volunteers was also validated by satellite data from the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) in its damage assessment report.
After the row over bureaucratic handling of the fire, the government posted a full-time IFS officer T Balachandra as conservator of forests and field director of Bandipur.
IAF choppers on Tuesday too conducted nine sorties and sprayed water over the burning patches of the tiger reserve and in a few hours, brought the situation under control. Assessing the damage through thermal imaging with its satellites, Isro released a report stating that most of the GS Betta range was gutted. The report, a copy of which is with DH, said, “Burnt area analysis indicates an estimated 21.49 hectares on February 23, another 1,808.64 hectares on February 24 and a total of 4,419.54 hectares on February 25. No fires have been reported within Bandipur park area on February 26.”
C Puttarangashetty, District-in-charge Minister, Chamarajanagar inspected the damaged area in Moolehole and GS Betta range and said, “At the outset, it appears to be a failure on the part of the officials as fire-lines were not completed prior to the fire season.” He also opined that the forest department should have recruited more staff considering the harsh summer.
Facing flak for not posting a full-time director at Bandipur as promised by Forest Minister Satish Jarkiholi, the state government posted the 2003 batch IFS officer Balachandra as a full-time field director.
C Jayaram, Chief Wildlife Warden said the fire incident spanning five days was the worst in the history of the department.
While many blamed it on officials, Jayaram claimed that officials handled the situation efficiently.
Clarifying that wildlife was not affected, Jayaram said the extent of damage will be known only after obtaining reports from NASA, USA. “Unlike in the previous year, this year, we could not control the fire as the wind speed was high. Winds, which usually blow at 5 kmph in February, clocked 15 kmph this year, fanning the flames.
With the entire department working 24X7 to contain the fire in Bandipur, it lacked resources to contain the spread of wildfire in other parts of Karnataka. According to data provided by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), there were active and large scale fires in Bhadra Tiger Reserve limits, patches of state forests in Davanagere district, Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve in Uttara Kannada and Biligiriranga Temple Sanctuary (BRT).