The wildfire that trapped a trekking team and killed several of them inside the Theni forests on Sunday has sparked a debate on the safety of trekkers and campers inside forests during summer. Though there are several regulations for trekking during what the forest department calls 'fire season,' they are not often followed.
Seasoned trekkers say there is nothing wrong in trekking during summer, but they warn against venturing into forests during the season if you are inexperienced and without proper guidance.
“I would say there is absolutely nothing wrong in trekking during summer. During the season, you can actually sight more wildlife. But it is better to avoid the trips, especially to reserve forests if you don't have enough experience and proper guidance," said Pravenn Muraleedharan, a trekker and managing director of Team Eco Ventures.
Asked what is the first thing to be careful while trekking, he said, “You should find out if you are allowed to go to the forest.” He said often the rules regarding forest visits are not followed in the country which puts both human and wildlife in danger.
He said one should be aware of the geography of the trekking spot and should get professional guidance from somebody who knows the region well. “You should know how to sort out an issue,” he said.
Citing a steady rise in illegal trekking across the state, Praveen warned against an imminent tragedy at Chokramudi, a peak near Munnar and a habitat of the Nilgiri thar. He said uncontrolled trekking to the area has been taking a huge toll on the wildlife and the habitation of the peak.
Asked about the ways to prevent and escape wildfire, Praveen listed out the following tips:
• Avoid smoking
• Try to douse fires as soon as you spot it; but you may not able be act alone
• Try to find a way out of the affected area
• Try to find the direction of the wind and move accordingly – It may not be possible at areas where the wind direction switches frequently
Adding to the list, a senior forest officer highlighted the need to be aware of methods such as counter fire or controlled burning. Counter fire means igniting a small fire from the opposite direction of the raging fire so that you can stop its spread. However, you need adequate training and presence of mind to do it.
The official said the tragedy in Theni might have been avoided had the victims tried this method. He also advised to be in groups and avoid getting dispersed in the event of a fire.
He said in no condition is it advisable to allow a large group of people inside the forest. He said in Kerala, rules were being strictly followed while allowing people to trek. He also cited the practical difficulties in handling tourists in forests situated along highways.
Fighting wildfire – points to remember
• Know the geography of the forest
• Get the company of someone who knows the forest
• Avoid smoking inside forests
• Try to douse the fire as soon as you spot it
• Use bushes or plants to douse the fire
• Identify the direction of the wind and move accordingly
• Try to climb rocks, if there's any
• Stay in groups; don't get dispersed