BHUBANESWAR: In Odisha, it is “spreading like a wildfire”. Literally. With mercury soaring well above normal, forest and wildlife habitats are bearing the brunt of a staggering heat wave which has the State in its grip.
Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Balasore, Kandhamal, Ganjam, Sambalpur, Cuttack, Khurda, Nayagarh, Angul, Boudh, Koraput - you name it and forest fire reports have been coming in thick and fast from across the State.
The Forest Survey of India (FSI), which uses satellite imagery to get coordinates of forest fire from across the country, has been disseminating details to the State Forest Department to tackle the situation.
In the last 15 days, over 750 instances of forest fire - both small and major cases - have been captured by the FSI. On Friday itself, it recorded 15 locations in Kandhamal, Sambalpur and Keonjhar districts where fire was reported. Forest fire during April is normal but 2016 has been different. This year, the summer onset started from February and continuous heat has acted as a facilitator. “Leaf shedding in the forests takes place once during the season but this time, we have reported multiple phases of shedding. The forest floors are full of dry leaves and in absence of intermittent rain, fire has been recurrent,” said a Divisional Forest Officer.
In absence of local rains, the moisture-stress conditions in the forest have prevented decomposition of leaves which have abated the incidence. Besides, the bamboo forests, which cause fire in extreme heat conditions, have been another source in many parts.
As a result, in many divisions, the incidence of fire has jumped. Mahanadi Wildlife Division, which reported fire in over about 0.4 acre last year, has so far recorded wild fire over an approximate 3.5 acre this time.
The authorities not only engaged blowers to put out the flames but also decided to be stringent with those found in possession of articles that can start fire. “Even charges under Wildlife Protection Act will be slapped, if people are found smoking while using the forest roads,” said a senior officer. Beedi is a major source of fire in the forested areas.
In hilly districts like Kandhamal, where rainwater run-off is faster, the forest beds are drier compared to other places and it has helped the spread of fire. Though Phulbani Division has reported 50 per cent less instances of fire this year, in last three to four days, forest fire cases were reported from other parts including Narayani hills, Baliguda, Tumudibandha and Kalinga ghats.
In the gruelling conditions, the forest field staff have been finding its extremely difficult to tackle the outbreak of fire. “We are sending out staff to tackle the fire only after 4.30 pm because it is almost inhuman to press them to work during the peak hours,” said another DFO.
While the blistering heat has been a bane, collectors of Mahula flower and kendu leaves are also creating ground fire to clean up the forest surface. And then there are poachers and hunters who have used the conditions to their advantage in many divisions to start the wildfire.