The forest fire that has been raging in the Similipal National Park for the last one week has been brought under control, said the Odisha government. Further, the fire has not resulted in any loss of life, the government claimed. However, it was not clear from the statement issued by Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik's office what the authorities meant "no loss of life" of humans or animals.
The 2,750 sq km park located in the norther region of the state in Mayurbhanj district is one of the major biospheres in the country. In fact, it's one of the first nine earmarked tiger reserves in the country since 1973.
According to the statement, the CM's office was informed by Mona Sharma, additional chief secretary of Forest and Environment department, that there has been no loss of life, large trees remained unaffected, and the fire has been brought under control. The core tiger reserve area also is safe from the fire assured Dr J D Pati, deputy director of the Similipal Tiger Reserve.
A standard operating procedure (SOP) has also been issued by the state forest and environment department to keep the fire under control and not spread to newer areas. The government took stock of the situation a day after Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change minister Prakash Javadekar sought a report on the devastating fire at the Park.
As many as 1,000 people including forest officials, locals and volunteers are engaged in disconnecting the fire line in order to stop the spread of fire to newer areas, an official said. In addition to this 40 vehicles and 240 blowers are being used for the purpose. All fire points in Similipal are being communicated through satellite pictures by Forest Survey of India, Dehradun, Pati said.
"The intensity of the fire inside the National Park is high because of the hot climate in Mayurbhanj district. Extra precautions are being taken to regulate it," Sashi Pal, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), who is monitoring the situation from district headquarters Baripada.
While the government is yet to ascertain the cause of the blaze, residents said that forest fire is an annual phenomenon in Similipal but the intensity is high this year. "The fire is man-made. It is lit by people using dry leaves for collecting forest produces like Sal seeds, Mahua flowers and firewood, besides smuggling timbers and poaching," a local volunteer claimed.
While large animals such as tigers, elephants, deer and bears could escape the blaze by shifting to unaffected areas, residents said that reptiles perished, along with many valuable trees including medicinal plants.
Meanwhile, 21 squads have been formed for each range of North and South Similipal, and village level meetings are being conducted to create awareness among local tribal people to refrain from setting fire in Similipal, Pati said.