Five hectares gutted as ‘man-made’ fire sweeps Perumbakkam marshland in Chennai

The fire was first reported at around 9pm on Thursday and forest and fire personnel managed to put it off by midnight.
Perumbakkam marshland fire
Fresh fire reported in the marshland on Friday was put off by evening.(Photo | Ayyappan)

CHENNAI: Despite containment efforts, the forest fire in Perumbakkam marshland that started on Thursday night, continued to spread on Friday before being completely put out by 5.30pm. However, forest personnel continued to stay put on the ground looking out for the last remaining embers that may potentially trigger another round of forest fire. Over five hectares of the reserve, predominantly grasses, were gutted.

While the inquiry is under way on what caused the fire, Chennai district forest officer A Saravanan told TNIE that the fire was suspected to be man-made. “We doubt some individuals in the adjacent patta land burnt waste and sparks from there came with the wind into the marsh.”

The smoke from the fire has choked many residental localities in the neighborhood. Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board chairman M Jayanthi said a team was monitoring the air quality in the area.

The fire was first reported at around 9pm on Thursday and forest and fire personnel managed to put it off by midnight. But, fresh fires were reported on Friday morning as the sun started beating down.

Around 30 forest staff, including anti-poaching watchers, and 20 fire service personnel were pressed into action from Thursday night. The dry dead grass, zero soil moisture and surface heat due to harsh summer made their job difficult.

Perumbakkam marshland fire
The smoke from the fire has choked many residental localities in the neighborhood.(Photo | Ayyappan)

The forest officer said that Perumbakkam marshland had not seen forest fire in the last 3-4 years and thus there was thick growth of grasses. Additionally, dry cow dung in the area helped fire to sustain and reappear.

As per initial observations, there was no bird death, he added. Chief wildlife warden Srinivas R Reddy said there was no big loss as it was not a migratory bird season and there was no water in the marsh for the birds to visit. There would be some raptors, which might have flown away as soon as the fire erupted.

However, bird enthusiasts said there are a number of resident grass dwelling birds that nest in this time of year and Perumbakkam marsh is a hotspot for them. Adult birds might have flown away, but the chicks would have died.

“Marshlands become grasslands, an important habitat for birds, during summer. Chennai has a number of resident grass dwelling birds like Eurasian thick knee, yellow wattled lapwing, Jerdon’s bushlark, Oriental skylark, and clamorous reed warbler. It is during this time many of them breed as well, and it is likely many nests and chicks perished in the fire,” said M Yuvan, founder of Palluyir Trust for Nature.

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