Wild fire…Reminding again

Forest fires occur every year anyway. That's for sure. The locals of Suryanelli and Chinnakanal areas of Idukki district have no doubts about the forest fires that occur here every year.
Wild fire near Chinnakanal areas of Idukki
Wild fire near Chinnakanal areas of Idukki

# Reena Varghese Kannimala

I saw that sight when I went to Cumbum in Tamil Nadu. Far away, there was a forest fire burning in the mountains beyond the valleys. I parked my car on the roadside and went down to collect information. The locals were not worried at all.
They stand as one of the many regular sights. The Suryanelli region, which is the revenue land of Chinnakanal village, was burning in the distance. Rajamani is sure that the area where the fire will burn will be at least one and a half kilometres.

In this region, forest fires occur every year anyway. That's for sure. The locals of Suryanelli and Chinnakanal areas of Idukki district have no doubts about the forest fires that occur here every year.

The local people say that if the grass that is currently dry in those grasslands is burned, then the grass will crackle next to the elephant when it rains.

That's why every year, when summer burns, forest fires are set. But they repeated one thing many times.

“We cannot tell who is burning. It could be anyone. It could be tourists. It could be foresters. It could be locals. It could be anyone. It could be someone burning it.”

An old man who did not reveal his name kept saying that many times. When we came a little further, we saw that there was a forest fire in the Neriyamangalam forest area.

In March 2018, while trekking in Korangini forest in Tamil Nadu, 20 people who went to Kolukumala trekking got burned in a forest fire. Kolukkumala, adjacent to Munnar in Idukki district, and easy routes through the forest from Marayur to Theni are scenic routes. These roads now lead to burning to death in summer forest fires. Three people who went to Tamil Nadu through the forest died of burning in March 2020.

I thought about the greed of the Malayali, who never learns from any of his misfortunes.

Because, from 2018 onwards, we have been shocked by the tragic news of the forest fire. But what are these people doing?

Three people who went to Tamil Nadu through the forest died of burning in March 2020.

The forest fire that broke out in the leased area of Hindustan News Print Limited in Kottampathur was shocking to human conscience. That day, three temporary watchers lost their lives in that forest fire.

The grief was compounded by the heartbreak of another upon learning that his friend had died. The forest department claims that it is not practical to use a helicopter to extinguish the fire.

The fact is that Forest Department Minister Raju, who doubted that the forest fire was man-made, made many announcements that he would take more strict measures to prevent forest fires and provide necessary safety equipment to the officials, but nothing has been effective till date.

Tribal watcher Divakaran and temporary employee Velayudhan Sankaran, a native of Kodumbu, died while trying to put out a forest fire in Thrissur Desamangalam Kottampathur. They were employees of the Poongode Forest Office. As the fire spread around them, they were seriously burned. As the area is rich in acacia trees, the dry leaves caught fire quickly.

Extinguishing forest fires with water is impractical, and even if possible, there may not be roads in the forest that allow fire engines to reach them quickly. Although small vehicles are passable, they are not enough to put out a raging fire. In this situation, it is wise to control the forest fire when it occurs. The DFO of Kotambathur argued that three human lives were lost when they went to extinguish the burning forest fire.

Even today, the forest department does not know anything other than fire beaters and fire blowers to extinguish forest fires.

When we try to put out the fire through such ancient methods as beating leaves, etc., it sometimes spreads in the other direction according to the wind. Then the method of the forest department is counter-firing from the opposite direction.

The forest department claims that it is not practical to use a helicopter to extinguish the fire. The reason for this is that the Air Force's helicopters failed to extinguish the Parambikulam forest fire in 2018.

These are the reasons why the forest department does not use helicopters, despite the continuous forest fires in Kerala. There are still utopian arguments in the forest department. It is as follows:

A helicopter can spray water only by flying at a certain height from the fire. There are other reasons for fearing wildlife and birds from helicopters. One thing is clear from this: Till date, Kerala has not had enough modern facilities to put out the fire. Or the facilities provided by the center are not used at the time of need.

Since ages, the bona fide forest rangers' organisation has been clamouring for some essentials for their life-saving work, but they are all mere forest cries. Until now, the forest rangers in Kerala have not received the required training or the necessary clothing, helmets, oxygen masks, shoes, etc. to ensure their safety, except for the fact that the forest department reports that they have been given practical training in fire prevention operations. Let's not forget that innocent people died in forest fires due to government negligence. 

Those concerned should not forget that the situation is here, where the saviour rulers are burning the people. Let's not forget that innocent people died in forest fires due to government negligence.

Are not the employees employed by the government in fire prevention operations human beings?

Are their lives worthless?

Listening to these arguments made by those concerned about preventing modern aircraft systems from being brought to forest fires makes it clear who is being saved. 3032 hectares of land leased to HNL were taken back by the forest department following the forest fire in Kotambathur.

So why is the forest department not taking back the encroached lands in Kottayam-Idukki districts, where most encroachment is taking place?

About the encroachment in Marayur alone, the government's annual administrative report says that almost 1099 hectares of land have been encroached on in Munnar division alone.

There are fire responder vehicles using German technology that can quickly reach the inner forest for forest fire prevention. They can easily reach into the forest. The forest department is not interested in providing such vehicles, even in the forest divisions, with the facilities of sirens and systems to warn the local people, which are useful for chasing wild animals into the forest. Many forest stations do not even have a vehicle facility. Not only that, many of the vehicles that have passed fifteen years are in unusable condition.

All this hampers quick rescue operations against wildfires. However, the Kerala government, which conducts foreign travel studies, turns a blind eye instead of learning about the modern ways to deal with such disasters. On the other hand, some political leaders are trying to encroach on the forest by sowing forest fire by any means.

It is a reflection of that that the Suryanelli-Chinnakanal area burned for hours last day.

The fire engulfed the Neryamangalam forest. None of this is news anymore.

They have nothing to say about the encroachment of forest-revenue lands by setting forest fires in the name of providing food for elephants. Forest fires are a major cause of environmental damage.

If you set a forest fire, not even grass will grow there.

Instead, invasive plants like locusts and others will thrive there. Then the encroachment becomes easy. This strategy is the reason why even the forest department has been allowed to carry out forest fires in a controlled manner, which causes severe environmental damage.

Many species of reptiles are also destroyed by this.

It is estimated that 5024 hectares of forest land have been encroached on in Kerala. Most of this is encroachment by private individuals. According to the annual administration report for 2021–22, encroachment is more concentrated in the high-range area spread over Ernakulam, Kottayam, and Idukki districts. Kotamangalam, Kottayam, Mankulam, Nilambur, North, Mannarkkad, Nenmara, and Wayanad North Divisions have more encroachments.

Drone surveillance has been intensified using multiple drones with a range of more than five kilometers in the hope of controlling the presence of wild animals and incidents of illegal encroachment and setting forest fires in the Mannarkkad forest range.

At the same time, here in Idukki district, in the Neriamangalam Suryanelli Chinnakanal region, the people who are supposed to protect the forest by making false propaganda that they can make food for the elephants next year are unleashing the forest fire for themselves!

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