The fire at HNL plantation in Poongode Forest Station area started on Sunday noon and is yet to be controlled.

Three forest watchers die while attempting to prevent wildfire in Kerala
news Death Monday, February 17, 2020 - 10:08

In the attempt to quell fire at a plantation area and stop it from spreading to the forest nearby has claimed the lives of three forest officials in Thrissur district of Kerala. The incident took place on Sunday noon at Kottambathur near Desamangalam under Vadakkanchery forest division. 

The victims have been identified as Divakaran (43), Forest Watcher at Poongode Forest range, and Velayudhan, a temporary tribal forest watcher and a native of Kodumbu. Temporary tribal watcher Sankaran (46), who was admitted to the Thrissur Medical College with serious burn injuries, also succumbed on Sunday evening, 

“The fire first started at the HNL plantation region on Sunday morning. Divakaran, Velayudhan and Sankaran were trying to manually douse the fire using tree leaves. However, the fire went out of control,” claimed a forest department official. 

The fire in the forest is still not under control. Fire responders are at the spot to put out the fire. 

According to forest officials, small fires were reported in the region three days ago. However, fire in the plantation region started on Sunday noon. 

Forest Minister K Raju said the forest department will conduct a high-level inquiry over the death of the forest officials. "The government will provide immediate assistance to the family members of the deceased,” he said.

According to a forest official, the department had leased out the acacia plantation to the Hindustan Newsprint Limited (HNL). “The HNL officials failed to set up a fire control line in the last two years. Last year, several forest fire incidents were reported in the plantation,” added the official.

A fire control line refers to the area in the forest that has been cleared of forest litter or dead plant material (leaves, twigs, etc) to prevent fire during summer. Normally, the forest department spends a huge amount to clear the forest area before the onset of summer. Forest watchers are hired to engage in the clearance work along the forest boundary.

However, the forest department has reduced the fund allocation for the clearance work. This year, they allotted only 30 percent funds to set up fire control lines in the forest areas. As a result, the department allegedly asked the forest watchers and Eco-Development Committee (EDC) to take up the work on a voluntary basis. 

In April 2019, a forest fire in Munnar, Idukki district, gutted acres of forest land and grassland. The large-scale fires had destroyed nearly 700 hectares of land, including parts of Pampadumchola National Park, sections of Kottakkamboor hills in the proposed Neelakurinji sanctuary, Jandamala in Marayoor and Kanthalloor regions.