Fire in Simlipal National Park contained to a great extent: Odisha govt

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(Eds: Updating with fresh inputs) Bhubaneswar/Baripada, Mar 10 (PTI) The Odisha government Wednesday claimed that the jungle inferno is contained to a great extent in Similipal National Park and other places even as the people of Mayurbhanj district observed a 9-hour shutdown to protest the state government's alleged failure to control the forest fire.

The timely actions taken through different agencies by the state government has resulted in the containment of the ongoing forest fire in the state to great extent and the situation is well under control, said Dr Saneep Tripathy, the chief of the Taskforce on forest fire.

As against 290 fire points across Odisha on Tuesday, the number has come down to 268 in the last 24 hours. 'The fire in Similipal is totally contained and today only 24 points are detected, which are being attended in the field,' Tripathy told PTI.

He said that the Similipal Tiger Reserve is spread over 2,750 sq km and includes 2306.6 sq km of sanctuary. The entire area is divided into 209 beats. To abate the fire, in addition to 750 regular staff, protection assistants, 800 additional fire watchers have been placed into service. Four more ODRAF (Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force) teams of 25 members each are also engaged along with 20 Fire Service personnel, he said.

A total of 10 ODRAF teams have been deployed.

Apart from using around 400 leaf blowers to disconnect fire lines in Similipal, Tripathy said mass awareness drive is being taken up, by way of conducting about 600 awareness meetings on forest fire prevention involving PRI (panchayati raj institutions) members, Mission Shakti, local tribal leaders and volunteers in Similipal landscape.

All the staff, squads, ODRAF teams, fire personnel VSS (Vana Surakshya Samiti), PRI Members are in the field with full preparedness. Sub-collectors, BDOs, Tahasildars and IICs have started public sensitization programme in fire vulnerable areas. These concerted efforts have led to the containment of fire in Similipal, Tripathy claimed.

'No damage to wildlife or humans have so far been reported from the field,' he said.

Meanwhile, the forest department in letters to the Director General of Police and DG Fire Service sought their active cooperation in dousing fire in 26 of the state's 30 districts where fire incident reports are received.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Odisha BJP MPs led by Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan met Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar and sought the Centre's assistance to control fire in the state's forests.

Taking to twitter, Javadekar said: 'Today Sh.

@dpradhanbjp & other MP's from Odisha met me regarding Forest Fire in #SimlipalNationalPark & nearby. @moefcc is sending a committee of experts to Odisha to give technical advise & help out state forest dept. in effective management of forest fire incidents in the region.' Javadekar said the experts will work in coordination with the deployed team for early and effective dousing of fire. 'I will be reviewing the situation with my team at @moefcc on a daily basis. #SimlipalForestFire,' Jadevekar said in another tweet.

In a major relief to the forest authorities and the environment lovers, a mild rain with thundershower was experienced at Karanjia forest range, adjacent to the Similipal National Park.

'The rain in the Karanjia range of Mayurbhanj is certainly welcome. Before the rain, the fire has been controlled in the Karanjia forest range area,' Tripathy said.

Meanwhile, a shutdown called by a local outfit against Odisha government's alleged failure to control the forest fire at Simlipal National Park evoked partial response in the tribal dominated Mayurbhanj district on Wednesday.

The forest fire at the national park, a major biosphere in Asia, had broken out two weeks ago and is yet to be fully doused.

A major portion of the national park, has been affected by the fire. The nine-hour shutdown by Bhanja Sena was openly supported by the CPI, Kaptipada Bikas Manch and Jago Mayurbhanj organisations. The Congress and BJP also expressed solidarity with it.

General people also extended support to the shutdown, which was observed from 6 am to 3 pm. As a result government offices, courts, banks, post offices, colleges, shops and business establishments, petrol pumps remained closed at the district headquarters town of Baripada and three other sub- divisional headquarters at Udala, Karanjia and Rairangpur.

No untoward incident was reported during the shutdown, the police said.

The local outfit blamed the authorities of Simlipal National Park and Tiger Reserve and demanded the removal of its senior officers for not taking appropriate action at the proper time which allowed the fire to spread.

Meanwhile, members of the youth and student wings of the ruling BJD joined the villagers and forest officials in extinguishing the fire in the national park during the day.

Odisha Congress spokesperson accused the Naveen Patnaik government of misleading people by claiming that the forest fire is under control and said that pictures of NASA show that 30 per cent of the fire is still 'active'. PTI COR AAM RG RG