A major fire has broken out in the forest areas of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve on Saturday. The fire, which had begun on Thursday, continued to spread on Saturday in spite of the efforts of fire fighting officials who are on the spot. Officials on ground estimate that hundreds of acres of forest areas have been destroyed by the fire.
The fire has spread across Kundakere, Bandipur and Gopalaswamy Betta ranges of the tiger reserve aided by strong winds which helped propel it.
"We are working around the clock to stop the fire but the efforts have been affected by strong winds. We are yet to ascertain the damage to the wildlife in the tiger reserve," a senior forest official said.
The officials expect that it will take two more days at least to contain the fire but played down concerns of the fire spreading uncontrollably outside the forest range.
There are around hundred officials of the fire and forest department fighting the flames with the help of local residents including tribals. However, the fire fighters are unable to reach the core forest areas and are fighting strong winds which are helping the fire spread.
"There have been no eye-witness accounts yet reporting damage to wildlife but we expect the damage is bad since the fire has spread to the core forest areas. Deer were seen running away from the fire. This is also breeding season for reptiles and there are ground nesting which we expect will be affected," an activist present on ground told TNM.
"The fire has spread to the tiger reserve's border with Kerala's Wayanad wildlife sanctuary. The tourism area of the reserve has been gutted. We needed to have had enough rapid action vehicles and fire engines to contain fires. We need to recheck our preparedness to handle fires like this since these fires occur almost annually," says Joseph Hoover, an environmentalist.
The Bandipur Tiger Reserve covers an area of 87,400 hectares and along with the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and the Nagarahole National Park form one of India's ecologically diverse regions. It is home to vulnerable species like elephants, gaurs, tigers and Indian rock pythons.
Tourists who visited Bandipur were stopped at a checkpost at the entrance to the reserve due to the spread of the fire. The fire comes after another minor fire was reported in the BR Hills range of the reserve which affected around 30-50 acres of forest area. It was doused at 8:30 pm on Friday night.
In the last few years, major forest fires have occurred in Bandipur in the month of February in 2017, 2016 and 2014 destroying thousands of acres of wooded area in Bandipur.