Bagerhat – The only Chandpai Range of the Sundarbans saw 14 incidents of fire in the last 12 years, raging through some 40 acres of forest and causing damage to its unique ecosystem, say officials.Forest Department data show that the 14 fire incidents took place at Dhansagar station under Chandpai Range in the Sundarbans during March 2004 to March 31, 2016.But, local claimed that more areas of the forest were destroyed in the fire incidents during the period than what the Forest Department assessed.On March 27, 2016, the latest fire broke out in the Dhanshagar station’s Nangli forest camp area of Sundarban’s Chadpai range, located in the eastern part of the mangrove forest. A three-member probe body has already been formed to find out what actually caused the fire that broke out at Shikdar Bari Shila in the Chandpai Range.
According to the residents of Uttar Rajapur village, those living nearby the Sundarbans often enter the forest and set fire to it to collect firewood. The burnt area of the Sundarbans goes under water during monsoon and local fishermen use the area to catch fish. They said fishermen set fire to the forest to use the fire-ravaged area as cattle grazing ground during the dry season apart from fishing during the rainy season.A recent visit by the UNB correspondent showed that the Sundarbans is struggling to have its ecosystem restored after the recent fire incident as. Though fresh grasses are seen there, Sundari plants are not growing up there in the affected areas.Forest officials said many precious plant species like Sundari, Goran and Geowa were burnt into ashes in the recent fire.Dr Mahmud Hossain, a forestry professor at Khulna University, said the recurring fire incident is posing a threat to the biodiversity of the forest. “When a fire incident takes place in the Sundarbans, it usually spills into the ground.”Soil fertility is declining in the Sundarbans due to frequent fires, he said, adding that mangrove plants require a huge time to grow up since tide cannot help the area to get refreshed.Divisional forest officer Md Saidul Islam said allegations are there that fishermen set fire to the mangrove forest to catch fish during monsoon.“If the three-member probe body formed to probe the recent fire incident finds that fishermen set fire to the forest, legal action will be taken against them,” he added.Probe body chief and assistant forest conservator (Chandpai Range) Belayet Hossain said the probe committee has already visited the spot and it will submit its report soon.Stressing the need for making the forest dwellers aware about protecting the Sundarbans from fire incidents, Saidul Islam called for setting up a special fire station in the area and recruiting firefighters to the Forest Department.The Sundarbans, a Unesco world heritage site, frequently suffers from manmade disasters. A tanker carrying about 350,000 litres of furnace oil crashed in the Shela River on December 9, 2014 while a cargo sank on March 19, 2016.A high-profile Unesco delegation recently visited the Sundarbans to assess the possible impacts of the recent manmade disasters on the mangrove forest.The Sundarbans, a natural habitat to the tiger, crocodile and dolphin, is located in three coastal districts – Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira – covering a stretch of 6,017 square kilometers.agences