Leaf blowers and beating branches: the fight to stop India’s forest fires

Leaf blowers and beating branches: the fight to stop India’s forest fires

Thousands of blazes in Similipal national park threaten indigenous peoples and wildlife such as tigers, elephants and orchids

As the flames move fast, snaking quickly upwards in the treacherous terrain of Similipal national park and turning everything on the ground to smoky ash, the women are in hot pursuit. Throwing their dupattas over their shoulders, sweat dripping from their foreheads, they vigorously whack the flames with leafy branches to extinguish them. Nearby, a forest department official armed only with a leaf blower works to move the leaves fuelling the fire out of the way.

Finally, as the hills of Similipal, in the Indian state of Odisha, become too steep, the women fall back. “It’s very smoky and hot, but for the past two weeks, we have been helping put out the fires in any way we can,” says Sanjukta Basa, chair of local environmental NGO Sangram.

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