Desamangalam, Thrissur: Kerala has been reporting a spate of forest fires in the last few years and the latest has claimed the lives of three forest watchers. They died as they tried to douse a raging fire at Illikundu forest range at Kottambathur in Kerala’s Thrissur district on Sunday.
The deceased are Divakaran, 43; Velayudhan, 54; and Shankaran, 55.
While Divakaran and Velayundan died on the spot with 90 per cent burns, Shankaran died at the Jubilee Mission Hospital in Thrissur by 11:30pm on Sunday.
Divakaran, a native of Vazhachal at Peringalkuthu, was a tribal engaged for forest duties. Velayudhan was a temporary employee and belonged to Kodumbu at Wadakkanchery. Shankaran too belonged to Kodumbu.
The deadly fire broke out at an acacia plantation of the Hindustan News Print Ltd, which is 12km away from Cheruthuruthy. It is part of the Illikundu forest that falls within the Poongode forest station limits.
The fire had been ranging on the top of the hill for the past three days, locals said.
A group of forest personnel, including temporary staff, had entered the forest by Sunday afternoon and were split into several teams. As the team, which included Divakaran and Velayudhan, was forging ahead, the fire engulfed the area due to strong winds. Three of them were trapped in the blaze. One of them managed to escape and alert another team. By the time the other team arrived at the spot, Divakaran and Velayundan had died.
Financial aid would be given to the kin of the deceased, Kerala Forest Minister K Raju said.
Divakaran is survived by his wife Indira and a 10-month-old son. Velayudhan is survived by Karthyayani and children Subeesh, Anilan, and Subitha. Shankaran's wife is Bindu and his children are Sharath and Shanath.
Fire rages on...
The wildfire continues to rage in the Illikundu though the fire responder vehicles of the forest department and the fire force are camping in the area.
It is difficult for their personnel to reach the spot which is on top of the hill. Though the forest department could prevent the fire from spreading, it staff could not douse the blaze completely.
Fire force personnel are struggling to cope with the heat and smoke. Jayaraj from the Cheruthuruthy fire station had to be admitted to the hospital after he complained of uneasiness.
The fire force personnel and people's representatives are focussing on the Pallikara region that has human settlements.
The Illikundu forest region witnesses frequent wildfires, according to the people in the nearby areas.
The 475-hectare acacia plantation, where the fire broke out, is under the possession of Hindustan Newsprint Ltd (HNL).
Till about four years ago, necessary precautions were taken to prevent wildfires and a fire line was prepared to bifurcate the forest region from the human settlements.
After HNL stopped operations about four years ago, the area turned into a wilderness gradually. Earlier several personnel were found here engaged in several activities including cutting down trees to make paper pulp. Now with the area becoming desolate any fire hazard may not come to notice on time.
Now, piles of dry leaves and rows of wilted plants pose a constant threat of wildfire especially during summer.