Baripada: Though the Forest department has engaged as many as 39 squads comprising 390 persons equipped with fire tenders to douse the jungle fire spread across Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR), the blaze remained uncontrolled and engulfed to the core area gradually raising question over the safety of the wildlife and bio-diversity of the vast forest.
“It is a matter of concern that apart from killing animals, the fire also burnt down the seeds of various trees. Moreover, the soil of the forest is becoming harder due to that fire that minimizes the growth of plants,” pointed out honorary wildlife warden Bhanumitra Acharya.
Although the fire fighters with the help of villagers have somehow succeeded in dousing the flame in Lalpani, Godi pokhari, and Balanga forests under Pithabata range in the first phase, it has spread simultaneously to Belpahad, Besarpani, Hatokote and Champagada areas of Dukura range, which constitute the core area of the sanctuary.
Sources said the sanctuary has been divided into two parts – core area and buffer zone. The situation may become complicated if the fire is not controlled in time in the core area as it is the movement zone of wild animals, wildlife activists fear.
The heat of the fire was felt in the State Assembly today as the Opposition sought reply from the government on the measures taken to extinguish the flame.
“There is need to ascertain the cause of the fire in the STR. Whosoever has set the fire should be traced as soon as possible. The government should be active on it,” Congress MLA Chiranjeev Biswal said.
Similarly, BJP accused the government of not taking immediate action to contain the forest fire. “The government should wake up from its deep slumber. More fire tenders should be pressed into service which has not been done yet,” BJP Legislature Party chief Basant Panda lamented.
In reply, the government has clarified that all measures have been taken. “As many as 39 squads equipped with fire extinguishers have been constituted. Steps have been taken to keep close watch on the 600-km fire line in Baripada forest division,” Forest and Environment minister Bikram Keshari Arukh said.