The immensity of the fire that has ravaged Bandipur is becoming clearer with two satellite data analyses indicating that the extent of forests burnt could be over 15,000 acres.
Though the authorities had estimated the damage to be between 6,000 and 8,000 acres on Monday, a summary report by the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Hyderabad, released on Tuesday presented a grimmer picture.
The report states that 24.49 hectares were affected on February 23, 1,808.64 hectares on February 24, and 4,419.54 hectares on February 25. This translates to a total of nearly 15,450 acres.
The NRSC report says that burnt area assessment using Sentinel 2 satellite data was carried out based on the tone, texture, shape and association of the burnt patches. There were 127 fire counts in Bandipur between February 21 and 25, as per the report.
P. Sridhar, head of the forest forces and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), confirmed the data but said that of the total burnt area, a little over 1,300 acres were severely ravaged. The bulk of it, however, was ground fire that would have burnt scrubs and lantana, an invasive weed.
A similar analysis by wildlife scientist M.D. Madhusudan of Nature Conservation Foundation said that the extent of forests burnt in the current fire season, as on February 25, was higher — at around 17,000 acres or 70 sq km of the national park, which is spread over 912.04 sq km.
However, he pointed out that the NRSC data has left out fire on the fringes, which are administratively part of Bandipur but not considered when it comes to assessing fire damage. “They have left out around 10 sq km of forests as it is on revenue land, even though it is administratively part of Bandipur and is used for laying trenches and fences,” he said.
The fire in 2017, in which a forest guard named Murigeppa Tammangol was killed while trying to douse flames in Bandipur, was of severe immensity and scale, but this year so far things have been as bad, if not worse, he added.
Mr. Madhusudan said that as fuel loads contributed by invasive lantana tend to build up, subsequent fires, especially under windy conditions, become difficult to contain. Fire should not be construed as an anomaly and is part of the dry deciduous forest system, but it is the intensity and scale that makes this year’s fire severe, he explained.