Forest fire is raging in Simlipal Tiger Project and has engulfed vast areas endangering the life of the wild animal inhabiting the sprawling forests.

The fire, raging for the past several days, has spread to five out of the seven forest ranges in the 2750 sq km biosphere reserve engulfing, Dhudruchadhei, Naana, Pithabata SPR, Lower Jenabilla and Barahakamuda ranges, the project officials said.

“But there is no need to be alarmed ... Forest fire in Simlipal during summer is nothing new, its an annual phenomenon,” they said.

Asked, they said the fire is man-made as it is ignited by people using the dry leaves for purposes like collecting forest produces like sal seeds, mahua flowers and fire wood, besides smuggling timber and poaching. The fire then spreads due to the wind.

While wild animals including tigers, elephants, deer, beer, barking deer and sambar escape the fire by moving to new areas, reptiles get roasted and many valuable trees including medicinal plants are destroyed in the inferno.

Environmentalist Bhanumitra Acharya said the modus operandi adopted by poachers is to drive away the wild animals from the area and kill them when they try to escape to safer areas.

“This is a strategy traditionally followed by the people, particularly poachers,” Mr. Acharya said.

In the face of the Maoist threat, the tiger project staff can hardly keep vigil in the forest which has turned out to be a safe haven for poachers, timber mafia and smugglers, Mr. Acharya claimed.

In their attempt to take control of Similipal, the Maoists had last year destroyed the wireless control room set up by the State home department at Meghasani hill top, the highest peak in Simililipal forest range, the range office, beat houses, forest guest houses and the wooden bridge connecting the forests.

“The Maoists terrorised the tiger project staff by destroying the infrastructure inside the forests.... There was hardly any effort made to tide over the impasse,” Mr. Acharya said.

The forest fire is doused only at the onset of monsoons when the area is lashed by rains.