A forest guard, who was fighting to douse a forest fire, was engulfed by leaping flames in Kalkere range of Bandipur National Park. He died of asphyxiation and burns.
The victim, Murigeppa Tammangol (28), who was stomping out the fire, is suspected to have collapsed due to suffocation and suffered burn injuries. The Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Ranga Rao said that Range Forest Officer Gangadhar and two other watchers hired from the local tribal colony were also injured and have been shifted to hospital.
Murugappa — who belonged to the 2011 batch of recruits and is from Vijayapura — is believed to have been trapped among the thick lantana vegetation which has enveloped vast swathes of Bandipur, and is highly combustible. “There was wind blowing from all directions and Murugappa could not escape from the spreading flames,” said Mr. Rao.
This is the first such case in Karnataka, and it has stunned department personnel and conservationists alike, who have described the sudden turn of events as “extremely tragic and unfortunate”.
PCCF (Wildlife) B.G. Hosmath said the fire was first noticed at around 11 a.m. in Kalkere range and the team set out to douse it. The tragedy took place around 4.30 p.m. Meanwhile, sources said the focus shifted from dousing the fire to relief and rescue of the victims, and the fire is yet to be brought under control.
While the immediate cause of the fire is not known, it has been established that most of the fires are caused by humans. In many cases, the dry vegetation is set ablaze by miscreants from the local community to wreak revenge when they are booked by the authorities for being in conflict with the law.
Bandipur is going through one of the worst dry spells in recent memory and though forest fires are an annual affair in view of its dry deciduous vegetation, the intensity of drought this year is high. The national park has suffered from two consecutive years of dry spell, and the failure of the southwest monsoon this year has aggravated the situation.
There are 373 waterholes in the national park, which is spread over 874 sq. km, but nearly 350 of them have gone dry.