IAF choppers to fight Karnataka forest fires: Minister

Bengaluru, April 2 (IANS) Forest fires during the summer in Karnataka will be fought with the help of Indian Air Force (IAF) choppers, state Forest Minister Anand Singh said on Thursday.

“IAF has told our forest officials that whenever it is needed, they will provide the helicopter. They have not committed on the number of helicopters, but during a bigger fire, the IAF may provide one more helicopter,” Singh told IANS.

The minister said that the forest department has to coordinate every summer with the IAF to extinguish the infernos.

“The IAF told us that there is nothing to worry, ‘we will take care whatever the possibilities are there’,” Singh said.

Karnataka’s chief wildlife warden Sanjay Mohan said the department gets fire alerts every day during the hottest days of the summer months.

Agreeing that there were nearly 2,000 forest fires in the last 10 days during the lockdown, Mohan said that it was common in the summers.

He, however, claimed that the forest department has set up an excellent fire response system which is faster than any other state in India.

“What we did after learning lessons from the Bandipur fire was to take more drastic steps. So at Karnataka State Remote Sensing Applications Centre (KSRSAC), we set up a fire cell,” Mohan said.

Additionally, the department has also incorporated expertise from Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Forest Survey of India and Karnataka State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA).

“The fire cell is now fully functioning… we now get fire alerts before even FSI gets,” he said.

According to Mohan, in India, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) feeds bulk data on forest fires to ISRO’s Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) which passes them to the FSI for further dissemination to the states.

Interestingly, the Karnataka forest department need not wait till the NRSA disseminates fire data, saving valuable time as its fire cell manages to procure them earlier.

Mohan said forest fires occur due to several reasons, including manmade.

“Many people dwelling on the margins of the forest burn the dried portions for newer grass to graze their cattle. Some burn the forest to gain clear vision of wild animals,” Mohan said.

Some people intentionally sabotage to take revenge on the forest department, he said.