First it was toxic foam. Now it is fire.

On April 29, stinking heaps of froth rose from three of Bengaluru’s largest lakes and blew onto adjacent roads and into nearby houses.

And then, about a fortnight later, the largest lake in Bengaluru, Bellandur Lake, caught fire twice in three days. Both incidents, one on May 16 and the second on May 18, were caught on camera.

A day after the second fire, a blockage of one of its outlets led Bellandur Lake to overflow.

While outrage over the state of the lakes grew, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board said it would recommend that a criminal case be filed against the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board for allowing the pollution of the lakes. This has not happened so far, the Deccan Herald reported. It seems the pollution board authorised action against the superintending engineer, a post that does not exist in the sewerage board. Officials are now waiting for the senior environmental officer to change that and allow action against additional chief engineer.

Why the fires?

Bellandur is not the world’s first polluted water body to catch fire. Lake or river fires tend to happen when they are used as sewage disposal systems. In 1969, two separate rivers leading into Lake Erie in the United States separately caught fire, triggered largely by the oil floating on its surface. Cleveland, which had already begun to clean the river the year before the fire, achieved this task over the next decade.

As reported last week, Bengaluru’s lakes have been systematically polluted by everything from detergent factories to sewage. Experts say it was not the water of the lake that caught fire – if any water still remains in that sludge of effluents. They have attributed the flames to the oil and phosphorus on the lake’s surface. It is not yet clear if this spontaneously combusted or was set off by miscreants, nor is it clear how the fire went out.

Bengaluru was once known for its interconnected lake system that provided it with a reliable form of drainage. As the city grew, these lakes came to be encroached upon with the collusion of city officials and corporate players. Nobody knows now exactly how many lakes are left. Very few marked on old maps of the city remain.

Earlier in May, representatives of the Central Pollution Control Board had visited these lakes to test the foam for pollutants. Their report is still pending. Another report on the status of Bengaluru’s disappeared lakes is due in June.