Fire destroys 3k hectares of forest in Bandipur

Fire destroys 3k hectares of forest in Bandipur

Raging blaze: Huge tracts lost in Kundakere, Bandipur, GS Betta ranges

Fire brigade personnel, volunteers and forest guards douse the flames inside Bandipur forest. Photo by special arrangement

A major wildfire has reduced close to 3,000 hectares of forest in Bandipur Tiger Reserve to ashes in the last three days, dealing a major blow to the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) which seems to have learnt no lessons.

Showing no signs of abating even after three days, the raging wildfire is spreading fast into other ranges of the tiger reserve even as the department is making appeals to the public for support to contain the fire.

What was ‘dismissed’ as a stray case initially in the Kundakere range of the reserve has gone on to burn the thick dry-deciduous forest in Bandipur, Gopalaswamy Betta ranges and parts of the Kullana Betta areas of Bandipur covering a length of about 20 km.

Spotted deer stranded after fire swept through the area. 

The intensity of the fire was such that the Bandipur-Ooty highway was closed for over four hours considering the safety of travellers. On Sunday, too, personnel from the forest department assisted by volunteers and fire service brigade struggled hard to contain the fire close to Tiger Road area of the reserve.

Previously, Bandipur had witnessed major fires in 2012 (1,000 hectares), 2017 (2,000 hectares) and a young forest guard Murigeppa Tammangol had laid down his life while trying to douse the fire.

Acknowledging the fire incident, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy tweeted: “I am deeply pained by what is happening in Bandipur. We are closely monitoring the forest fire in the region. Forest minister is overseeing the preventive action and forest officials, fire service personnel are trying to contain the fire.”

Forest Minister Satish Jarkiholi, who visited the fire spot close to Tiger Road along with the top officials of the KFD, said: “We have lost about 2,500 hectares of forest due to the fire. Our objective is to first control the fire and subsequently we will ascertain the extent of damage. At the outset it appears to be an act of sabotage and one person has been detained for interrogation.” 

Failing to anticipate and understand the gravity of the situation, KFD officials drew flak from volunteers on social media as well as in Bandipur.

Ronald, a volunteer who has been assisting officials, said, “The situation this year is alarming and drastic. Had the higher officials reacted to the initial reports three days ago, we could have averted the major loss. Almost half of Bandipur is lost and only god alone can help in containing the raging fire.” Armed with automated water sprayers, fire brigade vehicles, forest personnel and volunteers were busy dousing the fire.

Foreseeing a major challenge, the KFD appealed to the public for volunteer support. According to an official in Bandipur, about 100 volunteers had reported on Sunday and several others supplied water bottles and packed food for the personnel, who were toiling day and night to contain the fire.