BY AUGUSTO RODRIGUES
“The forest fire within Mhadei wildlife sanctuary happened because of a dispute between two groups, who lay claim on the same property, during the forest right claim that was being undertaken in the area,” observed environmentalist Rajendra Kerkar, who was amongst the first to raise an alarm when the fires started on Monday.
Goa, it may be recalled woke up to the grim news that big pockets within Mhadei wildlife sanctuary were burning with people initially unable to zero in on the cause of the fire.
Though there were initial apprehensions that the fire could have been prompted by climatic changes, a tweet by Forest minister Vishwajit Rane doused such doubts. “It appears prima facie to be a man-made incident,” tweeted Vishwajit.
“The people responsible for this will be taken to task and suspended. In addition, I have given stern instructions that anybody found entering the wildlife sanctuary or putting fire will be arrested under the Forest Act,” he said in his tweet.
“The fires were manmade and not due to climatic changes. There can be many reasons why the fire could have been lit. There are times when groups who lose auction rights set fire," claimed a former fire officer on condition of anonymity.
“The forest department normally builds fire lines that prevent fire from spreading and to avoid such incidents from taking place. Fire lines of a distance of even fifteen meters are created so that fires do not spread in case of winds,” stated the Forest Officer.
“Many a time fires are lit to create a place for animals to graze. These are normally controlled fires and could not have been the reason for the fires that were raging in Mhadei,” added the FO.
“The fires are still on. What happened was big. The people from the surrounding villages rushed in and everyone tried to do their bit to stop the fire from spreading. It was hot and burning but a small sacrifice when it comes to saving our forests,” claimed Ulhas Satri.
The Government of Goa requested the services of Dornier aircraft of the Indian Navy to quell the fire and ascertain the extent of the damage.
“When we became aware of the fire, our first reaction was to raise an alarm and rush and try to do our bit by stopping it from spreading. The flames were terrible in some places and many of us had to retreat,” recollected Ulhas.
“The fires have still not been completely put off. It is raging in some places of the sanctuary and we expect it to be put off in time. However, we cannot be complacent,” stated Rajendra Kerkar.