Bandhavgarh continues to burn for three consecutive days. The wildfire has put the lives of many endangered species, including tigers at risk.
A wildfire broke out in the isolated areas of Madhya Pradesh’s Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (BTR) on Monday, March 29, 2021, some 500 kilometres from the state capital Bhopal. The tiger reserve which is situated in the Umaria district, has been engulfed by the fire since then. It has now spread to nearly six forest ranges, including all three tourist zones – Tala, Magdhi, and Khitauli.
With the continuous spread of the fire, the forest department is making continuos efforts to put out the blaze. Local environmentalists and locals have also joined in to help the forest department. While the fire brigades have been working since Monday to douse the fire, the district collector of Umaria and his team also reached the tiger reserve on Wednesday morning.
According to a local source in Bandhavgarh, the fire possibly broke out on Sunday night but was spotted on Monday. The source said, “Huge smoke was seen by Monday afternoon. The chances are that the fire broke out on Sunday night itself and started spreading on Monday. It is also being said that the fire was possibly set by some locals.”
The wildfire, which started from Khitauli, has spread to six areas, including Tala, Manpur and Panpatha. “Most of the fire is in non-tourist zones and buffer zones. It started off from Khitauli, which has a lot of bamboos but has spread to other areas. The intersection point of Tala and Magdhi has also seen massive fire,” said the source.
The source added, “even though reptiles and birds may have largely been affected, any damage to mammals has not been reported so far.”
Meanwhile, efforts to contact BTR’s Field Director Wincent Rahim were made. However, the officer was not available at the time of writing this. Bandhavgarh is home to 104 Royal Bengal tigers and is the fourth most populated tiger reserve in the country. The reserve, spread over 100 square kilometres, is also home to other endangered species such as Leopard, Dhole (wild dogs), Vultures, Gaur, and Chital, among others. It was notified as a national park in 1968 and became a tiger reserve in 1993.
Tourism continues amidst fire
The wildfire in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve seems to have made little impact on tourism activities in the park. As per a source, safaris were conducted on Monday and Tuesday in Tala and Magdhi zones. The safaris in the Khitauli zone are currently on hold.
“Compared to the previous days, no smoke clouds were seen on Wednesday. Not completely, but there has been some control over the fire. However, it will still take enough time to douse the fire completely,” the source said.
Reason for fire still unknown
Even though no official statement has been released regarding the reason behind the fire, a local source revealed that it could have been sparked by locals who often light the fallen Sal leaves. The source said that there is also a possibility that the fire could have raged on from a Holika Dehen event naerby, which took place on Sunday night and then spread through the forests.
About 20% of the forests are prone to Wildfires
As per data by Forest Survey Of India, 37,059 fires were detected in the year 2018 using MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectro-radiometer) sensor data. And according to a report by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) released in 2019, “About 21.40% of forest cover in India is prone to fires, with forests in the north-eastern region and central India being the most vulnerable.”
The analysis also showed that extremely fire-prone areas account for 3.89% of total forest cover, very highly fire-prone areas account for 6.01% and highly fire-prone areas for 11.50%. Together, the three categories come to 21.40 % of forest cover.
The situation has only gotten worse with time. The state of Odisha has been ravaged by multiple fires recently. According to the Forest Survey of India (FSI), at least 5,291 forest fires were recorded in Odisha between February 22 and March 1, 2021 — the highest in the country for the same period.