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Officials suspect Kottambathur wildfire to be man-made

The forest fire that killed three forest guards at Kottambathur, near Desamangalam, on Sunday might have spread from the fringes of an acacia plantation to the forest area, suspect forest officials.

Primary indications are that the fire began on the fringes and later spread to the upper reaches. There is no probability of the fire reaching the area from from the forest stretches. A probe is on and a case has been booked by invoking the provisions of the Kerala Forest Act, said P. K. Kesavan, Head of Forest Force, who visited the accident site on Monday.

It was the dry wild grass in the nearly 100-hectare acacia plantation, leased out to the Hindustan Newsprint Limited, that caught fire. Though the department had been sending regular notice to the company for the upkeep of the plantation, it had not responded. The notice for initiating fire control measures in the past few years had gone unattended, leading to the wild growth of grass. The lease period of the plantation will expire shortly and the legal process for taking back the plantation is on, he said.

Trapped in inferno

The guards, engaged in fire control measures, might have got trapped in the inferno.

At some stage, the blaze might have gone wild in the strong winds that struck the area.

They might have ventured into the forest with the confidence that the fire could be controlled. Unfortunately, self-protection measures might have been ignored, leading to the loss of life, he said. Several families stay in the periphery of the plantation. The holding has been covered by the overgrown wild grass and a large extent has dried up, posing fire risk.

Regulated burning

A large extent of the acacia tress were cut down four years ago. The department has initiated steps for cutting and regulated burning of the grass will begin on Wednesday, he said.

The guards were equipped with fire beaters and blowers that are used to blow off the dry leaves before controlled fire. One cannot carry water and other equipment to the inaccessible forest terrains, Mr. Kesavan said.

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