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Pradeep Pattanayak

Ragging wildfire has erupted in several ranges under Rairakhole forest division in Sambalpur district, posing serious threat to wild animals and the people living in adjoining villages. 

The jungles near Balikiari, Burda, Daincha, Pandakimal and Landimal villages are up in flame these days. Those apart, Kholagoda, Hatidhara, Kankarakhole reserve forests under Girischandrapur, Charamal, Rairakhole and Naktideula ranges under Rairakhole forest division are also burning. 

Because of this, wildfire and the peripheral areas remain enveloped in a thick blanket of smoke, disrupting normal life. While villagers are complaining of burning sensations in the eye, animal lovers have expressed concern over the wildlife and avian species. 

Meanwhile, the Forest department claims to have taken the necessary steps to control the fire. As many as 85 firemen along with 84 fire extinguishers and eight fire engines have been pressed into service. 

The locals alleged that the Forest department itself has set the jungles on fire for collecting mohua flowers and Kendu leaves. 

“The forest department has been divided into two units, Kendu leaf department and Territorial department. It seems these two departments lack proper coordination between them as the Kendu leaf division is asking people to set the jungles on fire so that the production of leaves will increase. On the other hand, the Territorial division is spending lakhs of rupees to control the fire,” said a Rairakhole resident Dillip Pradhan. 

When asked, Rairakhole DFO Ramakant Nayak admitted it that some staff of the Kendu leaf division are behind the wildfire. “Recently we arrested two seasonal employees of the Kendu leaf department for setting fire in forests. These employees do this with an aim to get good harvest of Kendu leaf. However, we are monitoring the situation and keeping a watchful eye. If anyone’s involvement is found, legal action will be initiated against them,” Nayak said. 

Last year, as per the Forest department claims, while wildfire had erupted in 1,700 places in the State, it has been reported from 279 places this year.

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