The blaze was witnessed on Saturday at Kappatagudda Hills, which is home to many medicinal plants.
The fire spread to Beednal, Kalakeri, Kelur, Shingatalur and Harogeri villages in Mundargi taluk and forest officials suspect that vested interests may have a hand in the incident.
“We received a call at around 7.00 pm and reached the spot within a few minutes, and began dousing the fire. We were a team of 25 forest staff and around 20 fire fighters. Around 15 acres of land had caught fire and ranged up to 5 km wide,” said Mundargi Range Forest Officer, Mahantesh Nyamati.
The fire began due to a short circuit in the wiring system of the windmills located in Beednal. The residents in the villages also helped the fire fighters douse the flame and the operation was completed at around 12.30 am on Sunday. There were medicinal plants that were more than 50 years old in the area, Nyamati added.
“After the inspection, it was revealed that the wires had been deliberately cut by some miscreants. There could be numerous reasons for a forest fire but ever since the government announced that it may give the area a reserved status, there has been opposition from mining companies and windmill owners. A few local farmers had protested saying that they would lose their land if the decision came through. We suspect that someone looking to grab the land must have done it, but investigation is on and the truth will come to light,” a senior forest official said.
Two FIRs have been filed in this regard, one against the company which installed the windmills and another against unidentified persons who were responsible for the fire.
The senior official said that such instances have been occurring regularly in the last three years. In 2016, the government had withdrawn the reserve forest tag and after massive protests has decided to give that status back.
So far, over 700 acres of forest cover has been destroyed in the four fires, including a 10-acre teak plantation in Chikkamangalur.
With this incident, the number of forest fires in the last three weeks has gone up to five, the other four in Bandipur, Biligiri Ranganatha Temple Tiger Reserve, Srirangapattana and Chikkamagaluru.