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Bandipur Blaze an Act of Sabotage? Officials, Volunteers Look for Source of Fire

An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 hectares of the Gopalaswamy Betta range (spanning about 7,000), the worst-affected region, are said to have been reduced to ashes.

Deepa Balakrishnan | CNN-News18deepab18

Updated:February 25, 2019, 6:18 PM IST
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Bandipur Blaze an Act of Sabotage? Officials, Volunteers Look for Source of Fire
Photos of elephant dung being set on fire with incense sticks are being shared by volunteers.
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Bengaluru/Bandipur: It’s a forest spread across more than 2.5 lakh acres and the raging fire in three regions of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve is just about getting under control after two Air Force choppers were pressed into service, forest department officials said.

While the blaze has not been completely doused, it has been contained in certain areas where firefighting is still underway, a senior official told News18 on Monday.

However, fears remain whether the fire could reignite in the dry areas and due to strong winds.

An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 hectares of the Gopalaswamy Betta range (spanning about 7,000), the worst-affected region, are said to have been reduced to ashes.

"We contained the fire on Sunday, but suddenly on Monday we saw it had spread again in a few places. It has been brought under control in some places. We are working overnight to contain its spread,” said principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) Punati Sridhar.

Speculations on what caused the fire have started doing the rounds, with some activists wondering if it was an act of sabotage.

“There is no natural fire, most fires are manmade,” PCCF (wildlife) Jayaram has reportedly told some activists and volunteers.

Photos of elephant dung being set on fire with incense sticks are being shared by volunteers who have joined forest guards and firefighting officials in the operations.

“People heap elephant dung and a few leaves and deliberately set them aflame. Once it starts spreading, it engulfs vast areas of the forest,” said Joseph Hoover, a conservationist from Bengaluru who is Bandipur to aid the authorities in dousing the blaze.

Hoover said the tiger reserve has remained without a full-time field director for more than two months now, which reveals the government’s failure. As such, adequate measures could not be taken to quell the fire when it started four days ago, leaving the reserve forest in a shamble, he added.

However, Sridhar said after the field director was promoted to a different office, the department has asked the government to make a fresh appointment soon.

He said officials, after conducting surveys, have found the fire could have started on its own in at least three to four affected areas.

“We have booked some of the suspects for violating forest laws. A suspect and his friend may have done this as act of revenge. They were perhaps hoping that when things go out of control (once fire causes much damage), the range forest officer or other seniors would get suspended or transferred. We have to investigate,” the PCCF said.

Two IAF helicopters did four sorties to throw water on the fire which helped in containing the blaze to a large extent.
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