At least 20,000 trees were set on fire in the middle of the night on Tuesday in a hillock in Aurangabad district’s Mangrul town in Maharashtra, only five months after they were planted in a plantation drive, the Mumbai Mirror reported on Thursday.

Kalyan MP Shrikant Shinde – who had launched the plantation drive during which one lakh saplings were planted at the hillock – alleged that land-grabbers had set the fire and that it was not triggered by natural causes.

“This fire is the work of someone who has an interest in the land where trees were planted,” Shinde said, adding he will organise another plantation drive to replace the trees. “We surveyed the damage, and it became obvious that this was not a normal forest fire. It could have been caused by land-grabber or those wanting to encroach the hillock.”

The police have filed a First Information Report in the case. Deputy Commissioner of Police (Ulhasnagar) Ankit Goyal said they were trying to find eyewitnesses and that the Forest Department will with the investigation.

“This is not the season of forest fires, and this appears to be a deliberate attempt to destroy the green cover,” said Deputy Conservator of Forest (Thane territorial range) Jitendra Ramgaokar.