Bhubaneswar: Odisha government today sent a team of experts to assess the situation in Simlipal reserve forest where a major fire a week back has engulfed a substantial area of the forest.
Odisha Forest and Environment Minister Bikram Arukh said a team of experts was rushed to take steps to douse the blaze.
He said the PCCF Sasi Paul was asked to visit the spot and probe as to how the fire broke out and submit a report to the government by tomorrow.
Sources said out of the 21 ranges in the Similipal forest range the fire broke out in seven forest ranges. A large number of trees including valuable medicinal plants were damaged in the fire.
Several wild animals are straying into human habitats to escape from the fire creating a panic among the people residing close to the forest.
Though the exact cause of the fire is not yet known it is suspected that the poachers might have set the fire to kill wild animals.
Another source said some people might have set the fire to collect Mahua flowers which are used by local people for preparing cakes and liquor.
Similipal and its adjoining areas comprising 5569 sq km had been declared as a biosphere reserve in 1994. This included the Similipal tiger reserve which is spread over 2750 sq km.
Union Ministers, local people and members of the Mayurbhanj royal family have expressed concern over the fire and urged the government to initiate measures to prevent the fire from spreading to new areas.
Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan expressed his concern over the fire and urged the Union Environment and Forest Minister Prakash Javedkar and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to take action.
Mr Javedkar said he had already ordered officers to take immediate action and report him at the earliest.
In a tweet, Mr Pradhan said ‘ distressed to learn about the forest fires raging in Similipal Tiger Reserve from social media platforms.
“Request the urgent attention of Shri @ Prakash Javadekar and CM Shri @Naveen- Odisha on this alarming situation at one of the most important biosphere reserve of the country.
Union Minister of State for MSME Pratap Sarangi also expressed his deep concern over the fire in Similipal and requested Union Minister for Forest and Environment Prakash Javedkar and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to look into it.
In a tweet, Mr Sarangi said ‘Simlipal is burning BD it is not a good sign for Asia. Mayurbhanj needs national and international media attention as its cause is genuine. Sad not any leading national media is covering the story of Simlipal since the fire breaks a week ago,’ he lamented.
Mr Sarangi requested Mr Javedkar to instruct the media channels to come forward and bring the news to the limelight.
He also requested Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to look into the early signs of Simlipal’s firebreak.
The Princess of the erstwhile Mayurbhanj royal family Akshita M Bhanja Deo regretted that though Simlipal the second biggest biosphere in Asia is burning for the last few days no national media is covering it.
In a tweet, she said ‘ Mayurbhanja had a devastating forest fire a week ago close to 50 kg of ivory was found, a few months ago local youth reported on sand/timber mafia s in Similipal. Apart from a few state media, no national media is covering Asia’s second-largest biosphere burning #simlipal.
She also offered to host any media person interested to cover the story in the Belgadia palace. Mayurbhanja needs national/global media attention now, Ms Bhanja Deo said.
Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee President Niranjan Patnaik in a tweet said ‘ The information coming from Simlipal, Mayurbhanja is extremely disturbing. The scale of the fire is massive. If the government does not try to combat it, Odisha’s forest cover may never be the same again.’’