The sudden change in the weather conditions have raised a threat to the forests of Idukki with cases of wildfire reported from Vazhathoppe near the district head quarters, in addition to the areas in Panamkutty, Lower Periyar, Meenmutty and grassland hills bordering the residential areas here.

Idukki Wildlife Warden Saby Varghese told The Hindu on Saturday that the threat perception has aggravated with the grasslands dried up and trees withered leaves with the sudden change in the weather conditions. Extreme heat is being experienced in the Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary which covers the largest areas of grassland hills. He said that the fire line clearance has been completed and it has not been found effective as carelessness often leads to forest fires with tribal settlements inside the sanctuary.

It has been noticed that there is no cases of natural fire, which occur mainly due to thunder and other natural factors. The forest fires are caused mainly by deliberate burning of grasslands by cattle growers and anti-social elements. “There is chance of a further drying up of the grasslands in the forest areas if the summer rains fail and the winds blowing up for the past three days show a clear change of the climate,'' he said. However, there were no major cases of wildfire so far, he said.

Mr Varghese said that a campaign had been already launched in the settlement areas to create awareness of the ill-effect of the fires and pamphlets were distributed to the residential areas on the fringes of the forest. But compared to last year, which was free of any major wildfire due to delayed monsoon and abundant summer rains, the grasslands dried up earlier this year, he said. The forest officials and wildlife wardens have been alerted to notify if any incidents of forest fire anywhere.

The Forest Department is facing lack of modern equipment to alert on wildfires and the remoteness of the areas is a challenge to the personnel of the Fire and Rescue Services and the forest guards to reach there in time. The wildlife sanctuaries lack enough fund to depute fire watchers during the January-April period which is prone to the occurrence of the forest fires.

In the Periyar Tiger Reserve, the forest department has already burnt a dried up grass hill as a precautionary measure to prevent wildfires. An official of the PTR said that the areas under it are almost free of wildfire threat even at the extreme hot season and the green cover of the reserve remains intact. However, precautionary measures like monitoring by the members of the Eco-Development Societies are intensified during the summer season, he said.

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