A major fire that broke out on the University of Hyderabad campus on Wednesday night led to the death of several wild animals, students and wildlife activists said. Students and the university security staff battled for two hours to douse the flames, which started simultaneously at three places, killing wild animals in an area of 8 to 10 acres.
The fire, the second in 15 days, left the students puzzled about its cause and they demanded that university authorities immediately procure fire-fighting equipment and deploy security guards to keep an eye on any trespassers.
A university official said that the fire broke out at 9.30 pm near the boundary towards the Nallagandla side.
"About 20 security guards and 15-20 students reached and put out the fire by 11.15 pm with the help of portable fire extinguishers. A fire engine also was called from Gachibowli which helped in completely putting out the fire," a university spokesman said.
When the place was inspected on Thursday morning, it was found that some people were trying to cook inside the university as stones to balance the utensils and ashes were found at the site. It is suspected that some labourers from the Nallagandla side would have come inside the university to cook food, he said.
The university authorities said they were trying to procure additional fire-fighting equipment to tackle such situations.
Students say that the central university witnesses 6-7 fires every year but the second incident in two weeks has raised concerns about the safety of wildlife.
"Last week, the first fire had burnt dry grass on 6-8 acres but this time it was a huge fire. It started from three points," B. Rohit Kumar, a research scholar, told IANS.
Rohit said that they were puzzled by two fire incidents in 15 days. They suspect it could have been lit by cattle-herders who enter from outside and burn old dry grass so that new grass grows in its place.
They said poachers could also be behind the fire incidents. Sometimes the students also light campfires but the recent incidents are not related to them as many of them have gone home due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
"Every year, the university is witnessing at least seven major fire accidents, which are causing a lot of wildlife deaths and destroying valuable biodiversity," said Dr Ravi Jillapalli, founder, Wild Lens, a group working to create awareness about the biodiversity on the campus.
He pointed out that in the past fire incidents damaged labs in the Computer Science and Life Sciences buildings besides shelter sheds of construction labourers.
He said that a security person and few students were injured in the fire caused by burning of a garbage dump a year ago. The then Assistant Registrar immediately proposed to purchase a fire extinguisher vehicle which was estimated to cost around Rs 30 lakh, but the proposal was rejected by the administration.
He said that a university with eminence and potential for excellence is struggling a lot to procure basic fire safety mechanisms.
"Is it really that difficult for a university with crores of funding to get a fire extinguisher vehicle and couple of fire fighters," he asked.
A huge fire in February this year had burnt dry grass over 150 acres of land towards Gopichand Badminton Academy side. The university campus spread over 2500 to 3000 acres is home to several rare species of bird and wild animals like spotted deer, wild board, monitor lizard and Asian palm civet.