BANDIPUR: A major fire that gutted thousands of acres of land in the Bandipur tiger reserve has been doused.
Karnataka’s top forest official confirmed that an “act of sabotage” had caused the blaze.
“We have definite clues about those responsible for setting off the fire,” principal chief conservator of forests Punati Sridhar said. “Our probe is continuing. The forest department recently took strict action certain offenders and we suspect they were trying to retaliate.”
Teams of firemen and foresters fought a desperate battle against the conflagration – one the most devastating forest fires in the state. The fire devoured swathes of terrain in Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta (GS Betta) near here after ravaging parts of Kundakere and Maddur ranges a day earlier.
By late evening on Sunday, forest officials estimated that the fire had devoured at least 60% of the 70-sq km GB Range, and affected many other stretches of the forest areas in the region. Forest officers are working on all options – including using fresh shrubs and sand – to douse the blaze.
The fire couldn’t spread to critical tiger habitat. Bandipur has the highest tiger population in India, hosting every fourth animal that’s accounted for in the country.
Though the chief of the forest force on Sunday stated that the fire was man-made, the Karnataka government on Sunday declared its primary task was to control the fire.
“We have definite clues about those responsible for setting off the fire,” PCCXF Sridhar said. “Our probe is continuing. The forest department recently took strict action certain offenders and we suspect they were trying to retaliate.”
There were sporadic reports of the fire in Bandipur over the past week before Saturday’s fire razed thousands of acres of forestland. On Sunday, thick plumes of smoke continued to billow into the sky out of forest areas in GS Betta.
Foresters said conditions were ideal for a forest fire to spread rapidly. Dry grass and lantana fuelled the blaze fire as it quickly spread to various wooded areas, leaving devastation in its wake.
Stumps of gutted trees and a thick carpet of ash was all that remained of the dense underbrush and deciduous tree cover. Though foresters on Sunday said no animals had perished in the fire, TOI (see photographs) spotted the burnt antlers of deer, squirrels burned alive and at least one dead python in razed parts of the reserve.
Forest minister Satish Jarkiholi visited the spot on Sunday, made an inspection of the surrounding areas and held meetings with top forest officers including forest chief Sridhar.
Since Thursday, Bandipur range, spread over 874sqkm, has reported frequent fire accidents in Chamarajanagar and Mysuru districts: these have gobbled up 8,000 acres in four ranges of Bandipur. GS Range is near Gundlupet in Chamarajanagar.
Forest minister Satish Jarkiholi on Sunday toured the affected areas and held a meeting with forest officials, including forest chief Sridhar.