Sharmili Mallick

Bhubaneswar: Even as more than 10 days have passed since a devastating fire broke out in the wilds of Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR), India's largest biosphere reserves in Odisha's Mayurbhanj district, the State Forest Department is still to bring the situation under control.

The raging flames continue to spread from one part to another devouring eight out of the total 21 ranges of the Similipal forest division so far.

As per reports, the fire has already spread to the whole of Anandapur, Khandachira and Balinal hills under Podadiha Forest Range in the southern part of the STR. The flames have also engulfed Mituani and Kendumundi forests under Thakurmunda range of the STR with no signs of receding.

"The jungle is burning and we are helpless. Many medicinal plants have been reduced to ashes. Many wildlife species, including endangered and scarce ones, have perished in the wildfire," said a local.

It is being alleged that the fire could have been set by locals to poach wild animals and collect mahua.

Meanwhile, the forest department officials of STR have formed a squad for each of the 21 ranges across five divisions - North and South STR (Wildlife) besides Baripada, Rairangpur and Karanjia (Territorial) to carry out the fire fighting operations.

These squads, which would be led by deputy rangers, will also include foresters, forest guards, protection assistants and Forest Fire Management personnel.

"The forest department has deployed its personnel and several wildfire mitigation measures have adopted to bring the flames into control. Adequate vehicles, fuel, fire blowers, personal safety equipment have been provided to the personnel. Besides, teams of fire squad that were particularly reserved for carrying out rescue operation during forest fires have been also been pressed into action," said Deputy Director (DD) of Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) Jagyandatta Pati.

On the other hand, Union Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar on Tuesday responded to reports of the forest fires in Simlipal Tiger Reserve, saying that he had ordered officers to take immediate action and report it to him.

Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had apprised the matter to Javadekar and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and had requested them to take immediate ameliorative measures on the alarming forest fire in the STR.

Similarly, the Princess of erstwhile royal family of Mayurbhanj, Akshita Bhanj Deo on Tuesday expressed her concern over the lackadaisical attitude of the National media over a serious environmental and ecological disaster in Odisha.

"Apart from a few State media, no national media is covering the news on how Asia’s second largest biosphere reserve has been continuously burning for the past several days," she said.

In her Twitter handle, Bhanj Deo has also requested national/global media attention in exposing and bringing to the fore the emergency the situation in the park.

Union Minister Pratap Sarangi on Wednesday expressed his concern over the indifferent attitude of the national media and international media over the alarming situation.