THRISSUR: Fear and fatigue were writ large on Achu’s face while his eyes welled up often as he described Sunday’s forest fire, which claimed the lives of his three colleagues who jointly tried to douse it. Achu thanks goodness for being alive now. “It’s only because of luck that I’m standing here now,” said the 59-year-old as he described the fire at Kottambathur near Desamangalam on the district’s border. He had set out for the HNL land with forest watcher Divakaran, 43, and tribal watchers Velayudhan, 54, and Sankaran, 55, at 2pm on Sunday.
“At first, we thought we could control the fire. And we almost doused it using rubber tubes and the equipment provided by the Forest Department. We were about to leave the place when the fire started getting wild again,” said Achu, who has gained some experience in protecting himself from fire that spreads quickly on dried grass. “I started running, but fell down. I took off my shirt quickly and started beating on the grass to keep the fire from reaching me.
It worked and I managed to escape, but when I looked for my teammates, all I could see was just ash,” said Achu in a choking voice. He did suffer minor burns on his elbow and behind the ear, but that did not stop him from attending his colleagues’ last rites. “I still remember Sankaran’s words. While dousing the fire, he told me all work on his new house at Kodumbu was over and he could retire without any tension,” said Achu. Sankaran is survived by wife Bindhu and ch i l d ren Sharath and Shanath.
Velayudhan was the sole breadwinner of his family and his death has left them staring at a bleak future. He is survived by wife Karthyayani, sons Subeesh, Anilan and daughter Subitha. A native of Parambikkulam, Divakaran had earlier worked in various forest ranges in the state. He is survived by wife Indira and a 10-month-old baby.