BARIPADA: Belying the tall claims of Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) authorities of putting in place preventive measures to check forest fire, several parts of the biosphere continue to be razed by blaze, thereby endangering precious flora and fauna. A couple of days back, a major fire broke out in Sitakund and Lulung of Similipal and its nearby areas of Sapanchua and Rangamatia. The fire also spread to Kaptipada, Sarat, Bangiriposi and Dukura under Baripada Forest Division, Bisoi in Rairangpur Division and Jashipur and some other areas under Karanjia Division. Sources said if uncontrolled, the fire would spread to Chahala, Na’ana, Barehipani, Barhakamuda , Gudgudia, Dhuduruchampa, lower Jenabil and Dudhiani range areas in STR division.
Environmentalist Vanoo Mitra Acharya said the fire is man-made. “It is suspected that poachers are behind the blaze. Poachers set forests on fire to chase animals to their trap,” he said. Moreover, forest dwellers also set ablaze forest areas to collect Mahua flowers during the spring season. Due to the fire, small animals, reptiles and precious trees including medicinal plants are destroyed, Acharya said. Earlier, Forest officials had claimed to have deployed adequate manpower, high-power air blowers besides vehicle services and safety equipment to check the spread of fire in areas under Baripada, Karanjia and Rairangpur territorial divisions of the STR.
However, it is alleged that not a single member of the fire squads or watchers deployed by the authorities were seen when the blaze spread to Sitakund and Lulung. Moreover, Forest personnel deployed at Pithabata Beat House and entry point of Similipal National Park, which is situated at a distance of only 1.5 km from Sitakund and 2 km from Lulung, did not visit the affected areas, sources said. Contacted, Baripada DFO Swayam Kumar Mallik said there are eight ranges which come under his division.
The Forest department has already engaged personnel to prevent the spread of fire, he claimed. Deputy Director of STR Jagyandatta Pati said fire squads have been engaged in seven forest ranges. Regional Chief Conservator of Forest and Field Director of STR M Mohan said unaware of the consequences, locals set non-forest areas on fire for collection of Mahua flowers. However, they forget to put out the fire which subsequently spreads to forests, he added.