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Sharp rise in forest fires in Telangana and Karnataka

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Alarmed by the extraordinarily high number of fire alerts received during four consecutive days last week, the Telangana Forest Department stepped up forest fire prevention measures across the divisions in the State.

Officials have received a total of 7,700 fire alerts since January 1 this year, of which 2,815 alerts were received between March 5 and 8. Of these, ground verification was done for 4,561 instances and 4,460 fires were confirmed. A total of 8,329 hectares of forest reportedly been burnt.

“March is the month when 40% of the fires happen. This is when trees prepare for summer by shedding leaves, and dry leaves catch fire easily,” says P. Raghuveer, the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, who was instrumental in compiling the forest fire data between 2004 and 2017.

After analysing the data, the Department has come to the conclusion that a majority of the forest fires in Telangana were man-made.

“We concluded tendu leaf sales in the first week of March, and immediately after that, the number of fire instances has gone up,” Mr. Raghuveer said. The Department suspects deliberate burning of forest, so that the new flush of tendu leaves can be collected without much effort.

The instances are especially high in Kothagudem, Warangal and Adilabad circles, and among divisions, Yellandu and Venkatapuram top the list. “In Yellandu, we have sourced the fire to the burning of crop in encroached lands, and the plots given under the Forest Rights Act, which are still shown as forest lands. In Venkatapuram, we suspect the fire could have been triggered by beedi s thrown by careless smokers,” Mr. Raghuveer notes.

There have been fires detected in the lands of the Forest Development Corporation too, due to weed burning.

The department has declared 2018 as a ‘Zero Forest Fire Year’. Green brigades have been created as part of Telanganaku Haritha Haaram, the government’s flagship afforestation programme, and consist of about five lakh civil society members across the State.

New fire lines will be created wherever necessary, and leaf blowers will be deployed to clear the existing ones.

Karnataka prepares

In three days last week, small fires broke out at one of the last remaining urban forests in Bengaluru city. After battling the blaze, forest officials placed six persons to guard the porous borders around the Turahalli forest. Since then, not one fire has broken out, despite the temperatures remaining high.

In the past week, over 1,000 instances of fires have been recorded in the State’s forests by the Forest Survey of India. A majority of them were caused by humans, accidentally or otherwise.

Through the month of January, 907 fire alerts were sent to forest officers in the State. However, in the month after that, nearly 3,000 fire alerts have been sent — or an average of over 100 each day — which is less than the nearly 5,000 alerts received in February 2017, when large fires ravaged hundreds of acres of prime forest land and claimed the life of a forest officer.

Many of the fires are also set intentionally, with those living around forests taking “revenge” against the department for having filed forest offence cases, or placing restrictions on movement and construction around forests.

Source: The Hindu

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