Number of forest fire incidents have escalated in 2019 in Kerala.The fires in Munnar’s Vattavada region and the Kurichiad range in Wayanad together brought down hundreds of hectares of forest. The actual figure is debated.Officials and environmental activists claim that all fires are manmade and harmful, while some scientists say controlled fires have positive impacts on certain forest ecosystems. When summer strengthens, it brings with it dry spells and the season of forest fires. Since January 2019, a number of fire incidents have been reported from Kerala. In the last week of March 2019, a major fire broke out in Munnar’s Vattavada region in Idukki. Many forest areas in Pazhathottam, Jandamala, Kadavari, Anamala were ablaze. Though forest officials claim that less than 100 hectares of forest were burned, environmentalists stress that around 1000 hectares were reduced to ashes. “We did not have major fires in the previous year, this year some of the locals had clashes with forest officials, [and] they set fire as a revenge,” Eravikulam Wildlife warden R. Lekshmi told Mongabay-India. She said that loss was less than 100 hectares by adding that the forest department was quick enough to control the fire. Opposing R. Lekshmi, a government officer and an environmentalist, who sought anonymity said that around 1000 hectares were gutted in the fire. “Forest department did not give permission to cut eucalyptus trees planted by locals as part of social forestry, that was the main reason this time. Forest officials were unable control fire initially and it is very difficult to calculate the loss as the fire spread in a vast area. The sight was heart breaking for anyone who loves the environment,” he said. He said that the fire also affected the Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthianus) sanctuary — something which the forest department has denied. “Some people who own land inside Neelakurinji sanctuary were also involved in this. They are against this sanctuary because it stands against their business interests,” the same person alleged. Officials struggling with the fire at Vattavada, Munnar. Photo by Joby George. He added that as the fire was doused from one side, another major fire broke out simultaneously from a different direction. “Ten days after the major fire was doused, another fire broke out in Kottakambur in the Neelakurinji sanctuary on April 16. Since the last week of March, different parts of the forest were set ablaze like this,” he added. The fires at Wayanad Another major fire reported from Kerala in this season was from Wayanad. More than 60 hectares of forest was gutted in a fire, which broke out in six areas in Kurichiad range of Wayanad Wildlife sanctuary (WWS). The forest department said the fire was man-made and intentional. “The fire broke out in Vadakkanad area, where few people were conducting protests asking forest department to capture a problem elephant Vadakkanad Komban. The fire incidents were connected to this protest,” N.T. Sajan, deputy conservator of forests and wildlife warden, WWS, told Mongabay-India. He said that fires were set simultaneously at different places. As per unofficial information, more than 100 hectares of forest were gutted in fires in January and February in Wayanad alone. In 2017, from January to March (just 3 months) 2,100 hectares of forests were burnt in 440 fire incidents, Kerala forest Minister K Raju had said in a press meet that year. In 2018, fires were less compared to previous years. In 2019, the number of fire incidents has escalated. According to the forest fire alert system run by the Forest Survey of India, 38 large fire incidents have been reported from Kerala alone. In the months of January and February, 558 forest fires occurred in the five southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Kerala, according to FSI data. This is about 37 percent of total fires in the country.