Last week, three small fires broke out at one of the last remaining urban forests in Bengaluru city. After battling the blaze, forest officials placed six persons to guard the porous borders around Turahalli forest. Since then, not one fire has broken out, despite temperatures remaining high.
In the past week, over 1,000 instances of fires — as recorded by the Forest Survey of India’s Forest Fire — have been recorded in the State’s forests. While much of them remain small, or perhaps not severe enough to be considered a forest fire, what is of concern is that a majority of them are set by humans, accidentally or otherwise.
Moreover, while officials have protected much of the State’s tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries — where fire lines were created by January itself and fire watch towers keep an ever-present eye — the smaller State forests have been particularly vulnerable.
Through January, 907 fire alerts were sent to forest officers in the State. However, in February, nearly 3,000 fire alerts were sent, which is more than 100 each day. While the numbers have picked up and have seen Forest Department officials on their toes, they remain far lesser than the nearly 5,000 alerts received in February 2017 when large fires ravaged hundreds of acres of prime forestland and even claimed the life of a forest officer.
For the department here, the copious monsoon and post-monsoon rain has in a sense protected them during the summer this year. Streams and water holes in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries still hold water, and consequently, have not been reduced to tinderboxes. However, minor forests are a concern as seen in the recent fires in Chikkamagaluru and Kodagu.
“These forests are not protected as much as national parks and most have roads within them, which sees traffic through the night,” says says C. Jayaram, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife).
Revenge as motive
Many of these fires are also intentional, with those living around forests taking “revenge” against the department for having filed forest offence cases or placed restrictions on movement and construction around forests.
In the case of Turahalli, a recent eviction drive to reclaim 18 acres of land next to the forest is the reason for the sudden spurt in fires. Immediately after the fires, officials prohibited the entry of people into the forest area, and one person was arrested for bringing flammable equipment into the park, said Varun Kumar, Range Forest Officer.
This is, however, a rarity as most fires go undetected. “They use a mosquito coil or a candle stick and place it in flammable dried elephant dung. It takes hours for it to catch fire, and we won’t even know who set it,” said Mr. Jayaram.
These forests are not protected as much as national parks and most have roads within them, which sees traffic through the night... They [miscreants] use a mosquito coil or candle stick and place it in flammable dried elephant dung. It takes hours for it to catch fire, and we won’t even know who set it
C. JayaramPrincipal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife)