Forest Fire
Accidents, superstitious rituals, or arson? There is a lot of speculation, but no clear answers.
Image for representation only.

There’s a wildfire almost every other day in Karnataka now, and the latest incident has been reported from Chikkamangalur, where the Madhuguni forest in Balehonnur range of the district was ablaze.

With this incident, the number of forest fires in the last 10 days has gone up to four - the first three in Bandipur, Biligiri Ranganatha Temple Tiger Reserve and Srirangapattana.

Shockingly, at least two of the fires could be manmade. A senior officer told TNM that the Bandipur and Srirangapattana fires may have been incidents of arson.

“Based on preliminary investigation, there was no external factor like electric wires or campfires which could have been the cause for the wildfires,” the officer said. “Some people live in haadis (tribal hamlets) in the fringes of the forest, and the place where the fire started, and the way the area was gutted shows that whoever was responsible for the incident probably knew that the fire would spread,” he said.

Assistant Principal Conservator of Forests, C Jayaram confirmed that while arson is suspected, it could also have been caused by human activity. “Some people are allowed to live inside the forest area in haadis and they are very prone to believing in myths and superstition. Although arson is suspected, it could also be because many of the haadi-dwellers smoke beedis and that could have set off the fire,” he said.

“They believe in myths which involve performing rituals with fire. That could also have been the reason. There has been a drought for three consecutive years and one of their beliefs is that new plants will grow if the ashes of the old ones are buried in the ground,” Jayaram added.

So far, over 700 acres of forest cover has been destroyed in the four fires, including a 10-acre teak plantation in Chikkamangalur.

“The dry leaves were fodder for the fire to burn quickly, and in the process, a 10-acre teak plantation was destroyed within two hours. Shockingly, this is the first time a tropical deciduous forest has caught fire in our state,” the official added.

While Tuesday’s fire in Chikkamangalur could have been caused by an electrical spark in the power line between Balehonnur and NR Pura, officials say that the investigations are on, and the actual cause of the fires will be known only when they’re complete.

When asked how long it would take for officials to investigate such incidents, Jayaram said that it was a tough process as it is difficult to monitor hundreds of acres of forest land.

“It’s not a residential area where CCTVs can be installed and investigations can be wrapped up quickly. It will take time, but the investigation is in progress,” he added.