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Expressing deep concern over the alarming rise in forest fires in Odisha, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has urged Environment and Forest Minister colleague Bhupendra Yadav for pressing into service helicopters and other airborne methods to douse the fire.
Odisha has 51,619 sq km of forest cover, with a significant portion categorized as ‘extremely fire-prone’, ‘very highly fire-prone ‘, ‘highly fire- prone’ and ‘moderately fire prone.’ This includes the Simlipal National Park, India’s 7th largest national park, which is home to several endangered species, Pradhan stated.
A prolonged dry spell since October 2022 and accumulation of inflammable materials such as dry leaves across the forests in Odisha has led to large scale forest fires across the State, he said adding that forest fires continue to rage in Odisha as the State recorded 642 large fire incidents from March 2-9, 2023, the highest in the country during the period.
Quoting the Forest Survey of India (FSI) data, Union Minister Pradhan said the eastern State on 9 March recorded 96 major fires in different jungles-also highest in the country. From all the other states combined, 189 active fire incidents were reported the same day, according to FSI.
Odisha has recorded 871 large forest fires since November 1, 2022. This is also a national record for the season, official data showed. It was followed by Andhra Pradesh (754), Kamataka (642), Telangana (447) and Madhya Pradesh (316).
Such forest fires not only cause irreparable damage to the land’s flora and fauna but also pose a threat to tribal and farming communities living on the periphery of forests. It destroys their livelihoods earned from MFPs such as timber, mahua flowers, kendu leaves, and medicinal plants. Furthermore, it contributes to severe air pollution over urban dwellings and rising temperatures in the State.
Though the forest and fire department have been provided with equipment to deal with forest fires, it’s reported that most men have not received training on their usage. Usage of Helicopters and airborne methods for dousing the forest fires needs to be deployed in some parts as most of these forest areas are still inaccessible to fire vans on ground.
Pradhan also sought for the setting up of an empowered committee with representatives from the Central and State forest department officials, environmentalists, and forest conservationists with a detailed long-term action plan for preventing and mitigating future forest fires in Odisha, Pradhan concluded.