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Massive fire in Sariska Tiger Reserve, Air Force choppers combat blaze

Massive fire in Sariska Tiger Reserve, Air Force choppers combat blaze
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Jaipur: A massive fire broke out in the forest area of Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan's Alwar district and has spread to over 10 sq km, the size of some 1,800 football fields, a forest official said on Tuesday.

The cause of the blaze is yet to be ascertained, officials said. Tiger movement in the area has been affected by the fire, the forest official said.

According to officials, around 150-200 people, including the forest staff, are engaged in controlling the fire. Two helicopters from the Army have also been called in to douse the blaze.

"Villagers residing in the periphery of the fire-affected area have been asked to move to safety," the official said.

The fire threatens the territory of a tigress, codenamed ST-17 for tracking by scientists, which is in the area with her two cubs, officials have said. The big cats may suffocate, experts have said.

There are around 27 tigers in the Sariska reserve.

Firefighters are yet to bring the situation under control. The two IAF helicopters have been scooping up water from Rajasthan's Siliserh Lake and dropping over the forest fire in Sariska, 43 km from the lake. While the cause of the fire is not known, there has been an intense heatwave in the northern parts of the country in recent days.

The IAF in a statement said they sent two Mi-17 V5 helicopters after the Alwar district administration sent an SOS to help control the fire "which had spread over large areas in Sariska." "The IAF has deployed two Mi-17 V5 helicopters for Bambi bucket ops. The operations are ongoing," it said, referring to the collapsible bucket suspended from a helicopter performing firefighting operations and used for lifting and dumping water or fire-retardant chemicals.

The hills and narrow valleys of the Aravalli range dominate the landscape of Sariska, whose forests are dry and deciduous. It is also home to numerous carnivores including leopards, wild dogs, jungle cats, hyenas and jackals.

Every four years, India takes stock of its tiger population. This exercise is of massive scale in terms of the area covered and the personnel involved.

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