Brush fires broke out repeatedly in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) since Monday night, at three places together engulfing a huge stretch of forest ground. No casualty of any human or animal was reported, though.
Forest department officials said the fire broke out at Hathi Gate near the bungalow of the managing director of Film City around 7.30pm on Monday. After nine hours of work by over 60 people from the forest department, including 10 senior officials, the fire appeared to be under control around 4.30am on Tuesday, only to break out (at least two fresh fires) later elsewhere.
With over 300 fires reported in the past five years within the national park area, forest fires in summer have become an annual challenge for guards, but foul play is not ruled out, as in earlier instances.
Government officials said at least three settlements are in the vicinity of the fires. “For over a month or so, the forest department has been carrying out demolition of illegal shanties. More than 5,000 shanties have been pulled down,” one official said.
The fires of Monday night and Tuesday are feared to have burnt out large stretches of forest ground — an estimated six hectares. Forest officials said the exact area is yet to be ascertained. Firefighting was continuing at the time of going to the press. The second report of fire came from near a ground close to the sets of television soap ‘Madhubala’ in Film City around 9.30am on Tuesday. Dry leaves, wooden material from the sets and other inflammable rubble contributed to the blaze, an official said.
Around 2pm on Tuesday, fire broke out at Ravalpada (near Dahisar) and Chena river bridge (close to Ghodbunder) inside the park.
SD Saste, assistant conservator of forests, said: “We often witness such incidents when temperatures soar during summer. The reasons could be anything from sunrays falling on broken pieces of glass, friction between plants or even animals running atop stone pieces or burning cigarette butts.”
While officials admitted this is not the first blaze within the forest, environmentalists said fire fighting measures are not up to the mark.