BY AUGUSTO RODRIGUES
“Fires are common in forests. Perhaps, the news of this forest fire spread far and wide and that is why we have people like you coming to have a closer look. The fire was completely put off by three helicopters this morning,” said Rukmini as she quickly walked the forest lane in Derode in Sattari.
Derode was the epicentre of the forest fire that had social media ablaze with pictures and updates of how the flora and fauna in Mhadei wildlife sanctuary were at risk and the methods being employed by the government to contain the same.
Seventy-four-year-old Vinay – whose house is a few kilometres from where the forest fire is purported to have started – did not seem deterred by the fire. “Can you see the smoke there,” said Vinay pointing to a cluster of smoke emanating a few kilometres from his house.
“The fire started over there. That is the place where the caju (cashew) plantation exists. That land belongs to the forest department and there is a devasthan there too,” confesses Vinay.
“The fire was heavy for a day. We realised there was a fire yesterday morning and by then the forest officials had reached the site. Then we saw the helicopters coming with water and smoke followed,” recollects Vinay.
For Vinay, his wife and grandson, the fire on a hill nearby is not a deterrent to the Holi celebrations that are to start in the hamlet soon. What will you drink? Come join us for Holi,” compelled Vinay.
“Fire is normally put out with special twigs. As you can see, no vehicle can be used. You have to go on foot and the forest people and the youngsters from the village normally help in putting out the fire. These helicopters are a nice invention,” says Nira also from Derode.
“We hear that caju plantations have been destroyed in the fire and obviously the trees around and within the plantation. The animals must have moved away once the fire started and we may come across some of them near our homes in the days to come,” said Raju as he adjusted his turban before the Holi celebrations which were yet to commence.
“Despite the helicopters spraying water, I think the fire is still on but the intensity must have decreased. The forest guards are still around the place and no one is allowed nearby,” claimed Rukmini as she prepared to make tea in her house in the forest in Satre, around twelve kilometres from Derode.
“The fire was never a threat to us because we are aware of how to douse it. People in the forest start fires because ash is good manure. There are times when the fire flies with the wind but nature has its own ways of controlling it,” admits Rukmini as she excused herself and wore her Holi gear.
“We are yet to establish the area of forest that has been affected by the fire but we don’t think it is big. From our initial assessment this is man-made though we are yet to get proof,” a forest official told Gomantak Times digital on condition of confidentiality.
“Look at where the other fires are breaking out in Goa these days. Prima facie, all caju plantations or areas close by have seen fire and this is the time to harvest caju,” opined the forest official.
Caju plantations, according to sources in the know, are normally auctioned at the start of flowering and many times, candidates unable to accept defeat resort to such acts of arson.
“There was no fire around the forest here. I heard there was some fire in Derode yesterday and it has been put off,” stated a man in Caranzol, another hamlet of Sattari.
Derode, Satre and Caranzol are three hamlets at the bottom of the forests of Mhadei wildlife sanctuary seemed least disturbed by the fires that appeared on social media during the last three days.
“Of course, the forest like the river is our life support. But the understanding differs between those living in the city and in the forest. We are part of the forest and will not allow anything or anyone displace us,” summed up Vinay.
As the villagers of Derode and Satre got ready to start their Holi celebrations, forest guards walked through the areas now laced with ashes. From afar, the hill at Derode resembled a mountain covered with snow that will get blown away with the winds that blow through the jungle.