As many as 1,000 people including forest officials, locals and volunteers are engaged in disconnecting the fire line
Bhubaneswar: The Odisha government on Wednesday claimed that there was no loss of life in the Similipal National Park fire, which has been raging for around a week and spreading to newer areas.
However, it was not clear from a statement issued by the Chief Minister's Office what the authorities meant "no loss of life" of humans or animals.
Reporters tried to contact Additional Chief Secretary of Forest and Environment Department, Mona Sharma, for a clarification on this, but calls to her remained unanswered and she did not reply to messages.
According to the statement, Sharma informed Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik during a review meeting that there has been no loss of life, large trees remained unaffected, and the fire has been brought under control.
Patnaik reviewed the fire situation at Similipal National Park a day after Union Environment, forest and Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar sought a report on the devastating fire at the Park, one of the major biospheres in the country.
Sharma also informed the chief minister that the Forest and Environment Department has issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) to deal with the fire in the Park which spreads across an area of 2,750 square kilometres in Mayurbhanj district.
Local people said that large animals such as tigers, elephants, deer and bears could escape the blaze by shifting to unaffected areas, but reptiles died and many valuable trees including medicinal plants are destroyed in the fire.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Sashi Pal is present at the spot and monitoring the situation.
"The intensity of the fire inside the National Park is high because of the hot climate in Mayurbhanj district. Extra precautions are being taken to regulate it," Pal told reporters at Baripada, the district headquarters.
As many as 1,000 people including forest officials, locals and volunteers are engaged in disconnecting the fire line in order to stop the spread of fire to newer areas, an official said adding that 40 vehicles and 240 blowers are being used for the purpose.
The core area of the tiger reserve remains unaffected, said Dr J D Pati, Deputy Director of the Similipal Tiger Reserve.
While the government is yet to ascertain the cause of the blaze, local people said that forest fire is an annual phenomenon in Similipal but the intensity is high this year.
"The fire is man-made. It is lit by people using dry leaves for collecting forest produces like Sal seeds, Mahua flowers and firewood, besides smuggling timbers and poaching," a local volunteer claimed.
All fire points in Similipal are communicated by Forest Survey of India, Dehradun through satellite pictures, Pati said.
He said that 21 squads have been formed for each range of North and South Similipal and village level meetings are being conducted to create awareness among local tribal people to refrain from setting fire in Similipal, Pati said.
Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dharmendra Pradhan, had earlier tweeted: "Distressed to learn about the forest fire raging in Similipal Tiger Reserve from social media platform. Request the urgent attention of Shri @PrakashJavadekar and CM Shri@Naveen _Odisha on this alarming situation at one of the most important biosphere reserves of the country."
Responding to his tweet, Union minister Javadekar posted: "I have ordered officers to take immediate action and report to me."
Mayurbhanj royal family scion Akshita M Bhanja Deo has also expressed concern over the situation.
Union MSME Minister Pratap Sarangi tweeted: "Similipal is burning and it's not a good sign for Asia. Mayurbhanj needs national and international's media attention as its cause is genuine. Sad, not any leading national media is covering the story of Similipal since fire broke a week ago."