Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy had requested the Air Force’s help after he held a review meeting of the firefighting and rescue operations on Monday.
Gopalaswamy Betta, Bandipur and Kundakere ranges in the state’s Chamarajanagar district were the most affected in the forest fire.
“One helicopter proceeded towards Karadikal Betta hill ranges while other helicopter proceeded to the general area of Chammana halla top to fight the fire in the area,” a statement issued by the Air Force said. The statement said the helicopters will proceed towards Bolagudda and Kanive temple area soon.
“With two helicopters in position in Bandipur forest area, all out efforts are in place to contain the spread of fire in wide areas of the region,” it said, adding that the Air Force was working in coordination with the district administration.
The two choppers made 10 sorties spraying approximately 30,000 litres of water on Monday.
Head of the Forest Department Sridhar Punnati said 15-20 sorties may be required to completely contain the fire. He said the firefighting efforts depend on wind conditions. “The fire is spreading and may reach the power plant near Tamil Nadu border,” he said. “Hence, choppers have been pressed into service.”
Forest Minister Satish Jarkiholi on Monday said 2,000 hectares of forest land has been affected. The Bandipur Tiger Reserve is spread over 87,000 hectares.
C Jayaram, principal chief conservator of forests, told The Quint that firefighting operations are tough during the day due to wind speeds. “It will be a few days before we will be able to take control. It is not that active now, we are primarily controlling it at night,” he said.
Jayaram claimed the forest fire was man-made. “Someone has set a dung fire and the culprit has been identified and police will nab him soon,” said Jayaram.
Activists, however, said the Forest Department had failed to prepare for the “fire season”. Conservationist Joseph Hoover said the department was not receptive with the local communities. “During fire season, they should have had a meeting with wildlife wardens, locals etc to discuss what needs to be done and prepare accordingly,” Hoover told The Quint.
Hoover said the department had not hired fire watchers or daily wage labourers who keep a watch over the forests. The department has not trimmed and burnt the bushes in the fire lands, Hoover said. “They have identified some miscreants, there are more people involved. We have asked for an inquiry,” he said.