Submitted by Kumuda on Sat, 2017-02-18 23:43 Bandipur: In what is considered as a major fire accident in the recent days, thousands of acres of forest cover burnt down in Bandipur tiger reserve (BTR) on Saturday killing a forest guard and seriously injuring three more staff including a range forest officer (RFO).The fire – according to the forest department source – is the handiwork of locals. “The incident happened close to Kebbepurahaadi. We suspect the handiwork of the people here,” said a forest source on condition of anonymity.T Heeralal, conservator of forests and executive director of Bandipur tiger reserve is personally supervising the fire control measures. The department has also dispatched teams from Chamarajangar and other places to help the Bandipur staff.The staff suspect that miscreants of Kebbepurahaadi could have set dried elephant dung on fire, which starts burning slowly and eventually spread to the forest. “By the time the staff noticed, it was too late,” the sources said.The first forest fire of 2017 has burnt down nearly half of the Kalkere range, adjoining Kerala border, killing a forest guard Murigeppa. Gangadhar, Range Forest Officer of Moleyur range, who has received serious burn injuries has been rushed to HD Kote hospital where he is undergoing treatment.The fire was first noticed from Kalkere towers in the afternoon by the Kalkere beat staff, who alerted the Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF). The ACF, deputed Moleyur RFO Gangadhar, guard Murigeppa and fire watchers (on daily wages) Madhu, Shiva and another, who tried to douse the fire but in vain. The strong wind, which proved a major obstacle in preventing the fire from spreading, enguled the forest in thick smoke forcing the Moleyur range staff to run for cover. “It was suffocating to stand even for a second in that thick smoke of clouds. As they were running for their lives, Murigeppa fell down and was caught in the raging fire and was charred to death. Others who managed to escape, suffered serious injuries,” sources said.Realising that the fire could not be contained, the forest department is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that areas adjoining Kalkere are not affected. “Most of the Kalkere range is burnt down,” said a source. The fire was still blazing until the last reports came in. Since most of the forest officials are on the spot, it is not yet known to what extent the damage has caused to flora and fauna.