Image posted by Odisha chief forest officer on March 4, 2021, of fire service personnel inspecting a charred forest area in Similipal National Park. Photo: Twitter.
Bhubaneswar: The Odisha government on Monday decided to deploy personnel of Odisha disaster rapid action force (ODRAF) and members of the Panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) to douse forest fires being reported from around 26 of the state’s 30 districts.
The forest fire in Similipal is now almost contained, claimed Sandeep Tripathy, the head of the task force to contain forest fires across the state.
He said: “The forest fire in Similipal is now almost contained. The core area with precious wildlife has not been impacted much, with fire mostly confined to the peripheral areas of the Similipal Tiger Reserve.”
The forest fire that broke out in Similipal about a fortnight ago had created a nationwide hue and cry drawing the attention of the Union environment, forest and climate change minister Prakash Javadekar, who sought a report on the fire situation.
The local people, politicians of different parties and members of the erstwhile Mayurbhanj royal family expressed concern over the fire in the Similipal National Park, which is also one of the largest biospheres in Asia.
While the opposition Congress rushed a fact finding team to access the forest fire in Similipal, the BJP deputy leader in assembly Mohan Majhi along with some party lawmakers during the day met the Chief Secretary S C Mohapatra seeking immediate intervention to douse the fire in different forests of the state.
BJP MLAs alleged that the forest is deliberately being set on fire by the state government and the ruling party people in order to erase evidence of no plantation being made out of the CAMPA (Compensatory afforestation) funds.
Senior BJD lawmaker and government chief whip Pramila Mallick, however, rejected the allegation and said that the government has been taking all possible steps to extinguish forest fire.
Meanwhile, Odisha’s forest and environment minister B K Arukha, claimed that the animals in the Similipal National Park and elsewhere in the forest are safe. “There is no casualty so far and the government has initiated action to control the spread of fire across the forest,” the minister said.
The minister said usually, the period between February 15 and June 15 is considered as fire season when the forests do burn in several regions due to onset of summer. He said allegations by opposition parties over possible casualties due to wildfire in Similipal are not true.
Expressing her concern over the safety of Similipal due to raging forest fire in Similipal National Park, erstwhile Mayurbhanj royal family queen Rashmi Rajya Laxmi Bhanj Deo and her daughter Akshita M Bhanj Deo rushed to the forest to douse the flames in Bangiriposhi forest range.
They mobilised the local villagers and sought their help to douse the fire while requesting them to ensure that the fire did not take place in their areas.
The taskforce chief in the daily briefing here said that though maximum people are being mobilised to douse fire, the government has decided to engage the ODRAF personnel who are generally called during the calamities like cyclones and floods.
Tripathy said it has been decided to involve the PRI members to douse the fire in their respective areas. He said Odisha, with more than half of its forests as dry deciduous type, is vulnerable to forest fires.
Forest fires are a recurring and regular phenomenon in the state in the summer season with rise in temperature, coupled with huge leaf shedding load of deciduous forests, which are highly combustible and a big fire hazard, the former principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) said.
Stating that the forest department has undertaken a series of measures to check and prevent proliferation of fires, Tripathy said fire lines for about 4,500 km to prevent expansion of fires, have been created coupled with burning of fire-prone material under supervision before onset of summer.
Meetings and awareness campaigns with the general public are conducted under the aegis of van sanrakshan samitis (VSS), joint forest management (JFM) committee, and eco-development societies throughout the state, with about 13,500 active VSS/EDCs.
He claimed that the department has a state of the art fire prevention and management infrastructure with a geomatic based FITGC (Forest information technology geomatic cell) at Forest Department, Bhubaneswar.
This FITG Cell enables creation of a satellite based real-time fire monitoring and alert system.
The field staff, up to beat guard level, has been provided with 7000 GPS PDA and smart phone based app. The geo-tagged fire alert from satellite is transmitted through auto generated SMS/whatsapp and e-mail to concerned beat officers for dousing the forest fire in the field, consequent to which they upload the geo-tagged pictures of action taken in extinguishing the fire, he said.
The state government on March 3 had sent a high-level team to Similipal National Park in Mayurbhanj district to examine the situation and control the raging inferno.
Meanwhile, after fire incidents were reported from over 100 places in Sambalpur district, divisional forest officer Sanjeet Kumar said the persons responsible for setting fire in forest areas will be immediately arrested.