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Madhya Pradesh minister: Mahua tree leaves burning may be the reason for Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve fire

The state forest authority is trying to find out the reason for the fire in the Bandhavgarh forest — Burning of leaves to collect Mahua flowers, igniting a fire to keep wild elephants away or a lighted cigarette butt left by someone may have caused the recent blaze in Madhya Pradesh’s Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, state Forest Minister Vijay Shah said on Sunday.

The fire has caused a lot of damage in the Bandhavgarh forest and the state government would request the centre to obtain modern firefighting aircraft to tackle such incidents, Mr Shah told PTI.

The wildfire was informed a few days back in parts of the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (BTR) located in Umaria district and was extinguished on Wednesday, forest officials earlier said. The fire reduced to ashes parts of one of the largest biosphere reserves in India, they said.

After visiting the BTR, Mr Shah said luckily, no death of human or wild animal was recorded and everyone worked hard to put out the fire. He said there may be three causes that led to the fire in the tiger reserve.

First is, people burn and clean up an area of leaves under Mahua trees to easily collect flowers fallen from the trees, he said.

Second is, it is probable that people living in the reserve and its barrier area might have ignited a fire to keep away wild elephants that have entered the reserve from neighbouring Chhattisgarh, he said.

Finally, someone might have left a lighted cigarette butt or a ”bidi” that led to the fire, Mr Shah said, adding that fire usually breaks out in forests during summers.

“The fire has caused quite a lot of damage to the Bandhavgarh forest and modern equipment are desperately needed to douse such a blaze. A meeting in this regard will take place on April 6 or 7,” Mr Shah said.

He said that firefighter aircraft are used to extinguish big fires in the developed countries.

“Our country has such big forests. We are going to request the central government to buy such an aircraft that costs about ? 235 crore,” Mr Shah said. such an aircraft has the space to store an enormous amount of water.

“In such incidents of fire, the aircraft can fly to Bandhavgarh and Kanha (another tiger reserve in MP) in two hours (from Delhi),” the minister said.

The Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (BTR) is spread over an area of 1,536.93 sq km. There were 104 adult tigers in the BTR, as per the animal count. It is one of the thickly populated habitats of the striped animal in the country, BTR’s field director Vincent Raheem said.

According to a forest official, the fire had broken out in some reserve barrier zones and engulfed parts of the BTR’s core area in 15 to 20 places. A panel comprising the BTR’s deputy director and assistant director are carrying an inquiry into the cause of the fire and evaluating the damage caused by it, Raheem said.

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