Simlipal park fire under control, rainfall helped: Official

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Bhubaneswar, Mar 11 (PTI) The Odisha government on Thursday claimed that the wildfire, which had been raging in Similipal National Park and nearby forests for over a fortnight, has been contained to a large extent, amid a political slugfest over the crisis ahead of the second phase of Budget session in the state.

Sandeep Tripathy, who heads a task force constituted to tackle the inferno, said the situation has been brought under control, and parts of the national park experienced rainfall on Wednesday, which prevented the fire from spreading any further.

A massive fire ripped through vast tracts of Simlipal National Park in Mayurbhanj district and forested areas close by, raising concern among wildlife and environmental activists over its possible impact.

The opposition BJP and the Congress claimed that the fire wouldn't have assumed such huge proportion, had the state government taken timely action.

'We demand an apology from the state government for its inept handing of the forest fire. Had the government acted promptly, many precious wildlife and medicinal plants could have been saved. We will raise the issue in the Assembly on Friday,' senior Congress MLA S Saluja said.

BJP chief whip Mohan Majhi claimed that the park was deliberately set on fire to erase evidence of deforestation, he said.

The ruling BJD had said on Thursday that all steps have been taken to control the fire, and no damage was caused to wildlife and humans.

The party's general secretary (organisation) and MLA P P Das visited the park earlier in the day, along with other activists, and extended a helping hand to forest officials who were busy dousing the blaze.

Tripathy said a three-member central team has arrived in Bhubaneswar to assist the Odisha government in containing the unprecedented fire in the national park.

The team, after assessing the situation, will provide necessary advice to the task force, he stated.

Citing a Forest Survey of India (FSI) report, Tripathy said the state has registered 1048 'fire points', of which 497 are still active, and the national park currently has five such pockets.

The meteorological department in Bhubaneswar has also predicted intermittent rain in the state over next three days, which could help mitigate the crisis, he said.

'Leaves of all forest department employees have been cancelled. The department has been put on high alert, and measures are being taken to prevent recurrence of forest fire, given the fact that summer season has just begun, the former PCCF underlined.

Add to that, infrastructure will be upgraded, more fire-watchers will be roped in, and local people have to be engaged and mobilised to avert such crisis, he added. PTI AAM RMS RMS