Locals of Morlem have had virtually no experience in fighting a major fire, but when they were called upon to offer assistance to the forest and fire teams, they did not look back.
Their assistance to the forest and fire teams in controlling the major fire at Morlem hill on Wednesday and Thursday has received widespread appreciation, with politicians and forest officials lauding them for joining hands with government agencies to protect and preserve the forest.
Mohan Gawas, a local from Morlem, was unconvinced that the fire started due to natural causes.
“It is unlikely for a sudden fire to have broken out at the Morlem hill and we suspect it was a man-made fire,” said Gawas.
“Such major fires have never taken place on this hill before. Even when fires were lit in other places, they were limited to those areas by locals in their cultivations. But they always kept these fires under control.”
Voicing similar thoughts, Ritesh Naik said there are a large number of cashew plantations at Morlem hill.
“There have been minor fires to clear brushwood in cashew plantations. Cashew growers do this to clear the cashew orchards. But these fires are small and completely controllable. However, the fire at Morlem hill earlier this week was huge and could be clearly seen from afar.”
“This huge fire at the hill was certainly unusual and we became suspicious. People were concerned and after discussing the matter, decided to alert the forest department,” said Ritesh.
Locals said the fire had broken out in an area which had no proper access.
“There is no road to reach the site. There is a trail but it is also tricky. Hence, it was a challenge for fire and forest teams to even reach the site of the fire carrying their equipment along with them,” said a senior citizen, Mahadev Gawas.
“Had there been a road or some basic access, it would have been possible to have reached the site quickly and the teams could have extinguished the fire faster, thereby preventing much of the destruction.”
Nitesh Naik, a local who participated in the firefighting exercise, said it was not easy climbing the hill.
“When Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, Forest Minister Vishwajit Rane and local MLA Deviya Rane met in Morlem and appealed to us for assistance on Tuesday night, we were quick to offer our support,” said Nitesh.
“Realising that our help was needed to overcome this crisis, we quickly mobilised about 150 youth from the village and all of us met on Wednesday morning. We set out to climb the hill and all of us had tree branches and sticks with us to beat out fires,” recalled Nitesh.
“All of us were focused on overcoming the crisis to save our forest in Morlem. We were so engrossed in efforts to extinguish the fire that I did not know when it was noon. The only thing in everyone’s mind was to eliminate the fire and to stop it from spreading to other parts of the hill.”
“All of us worked hard and it was about 6 pm and dusk had settled in when we stopped for the day. By that time, about 90 per cent of the fire was extinguished. We resumed our service to the fire and forest teams on Thursday and the fire was finally under control.”
Forest officials were quick to appreciate and commend the efforts of the Morlem youth in assisting in the firefighting operations.
“When the fire broke out at Morlem hill, the locals provided remarkable support to our forest teams in fighting the fire,” Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary ACF Anand Jadhav.
“The timely support of so many locals and their assistance to the forest teams is unprecedented in Goa. The locals contributed significantly to extinguishing the fire at Morlem hill. By their actions, they have set a wonderful example for others and ably demonstrated that everyone plays an important role in protecting and preserving the forest and environment. The responsibility to protect the forest does not depend on the forest department alone.”
“When government agencies and citizens work hand in hand, success can be achieved and villagers of Morlem have shown how it can be done,” Jadhav added.
Locals are concerned about the extensive loss of the plantations and forest cover at Morlem hill.
“There has been a massive loss of biodiversity. A large number of cashew plantations at Morlem hill have been destroyed. It is very important for the forest department and every one to ensure that such major fire incidents do not happen in the future,” said Ritesh Naik.