Theni forest fire claims 9 lives, 27 rescued: IAF completes search operations; Tamil Nadu govt orders probe

Nine people, who were part of a trekking expedition, have been killed in a forest fire in the Western Ghats, the Tamil Nadu government said on Monday. The fire started in the Kurangani forests next to Bodinayakkanur municipality, which is 25 kilometres away from Theni district headquarters. It spread across the bordering forests of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

“Nine persons are dead, while 17 of the rescued people have been hospitalised and ten did not require hospitalisation,” commissioner of revenue administration K Satyagopal told reporters.

"Of the 27 rescued, 10 persons did not suffer any injuries and others suffered burn injuries," Theni District Collector Pallavi Baldev told reporters.

Watch: Choppers rescue survivors from the Kurangani Forest/Video by Naveen Nair

Among the dead, six were from Chennai and three from Erode, local police said. A total of 27 trekkers were rescued from the blaze in Theni, some 520 kilometres from the district.

The search and rescue operations in Theni have reportedly been called off as all the trekkers were accounted for.

The Tamil Nadu government has said that the trekking team had 39 members and 36 of them were caught in the mishap. The whereabouts of three are unknown.

Meanwhile, chief minister K Palaniswami ordered a probe into the incident and rushed to Theni to oversee rescue operations.

Speaking to reporters, Palaniswami said the trekking expedition had been done without getting the necessary permission from the forest department. He said a detailed probe will be held into the accident.

The Kerala Police also rescued three school children from Munnar in Kerala from the Theni forest fire , The News Minute reported. The police confirmed that the children were treated for minor burn injuries in the Munnar taluk hospital, the report added.

Video by Naveen Nair

The Kerala government has since decided to close down all wildlife sanctuaries for a safety audit, forest minister K Raju has said. He added that the sanctuaries will open only after all safety measures are ensured.

Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan said of the 17 rescued, eight admitted to a Madurai hospital have suffered serious burn injuries.

Rescue operations were carried out after the Theni fire. Firstpost/Naveen Nair

Rescue operations were carried out by Indian Air Force and other local bodies after the Theni fire. Firstpost/Naveen Nair

The remaining are admitted in the Government Hospital in Theni and in a private hospital at the request of the injured.

Meanwhile, Naveen Nair of Firstpost reported that the Chennai trekking club's representative has been taken into custody by police in Theni. The Tamil Nadu government has said that the trekking organisers had no official permission.

Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters brought the remains of eight of the killed from the hills. The remains of one more person were earlier brought down by the road.

"Sixteen Garuds walked up and reached there at 3 am. They rescued few people at night. At the moment, the Garuds are trying to lift the dead bodies to a higher plain. Two helicopters will bring the bodies down. One helicopter has doused the fire," Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told ANI.

The bodies have been sent for identification and they would be handed over to the relatives after an autopsy.

The IAF had mounted a search and rescue operation since Sunday. Apart from its 15 commandos, the IAF pressed three of its helicopters in the rescue mission.

The commandos flew from the Sulur Air Base near Coimbatore late on Sunday and climbed the hills.

O Panneerselvam at the Theni govt hospital. Firstpost/Naveen Nair

O Panneerselvam at the Theni govt hospital to meet those injured in the fire. Firstpost/Naveen Nair

What had started as an adventure trip for the trekking group of eight men, 25 women and three children turned into a nightmare on Sunday afternoon as they were caught up in the massive blaze.

The group had camped at a place up in the hills on Saturday night. They were supposed to return on Sunday.

Speaking to the media on Sunday, Baldev had said more than 20 trekkers were from the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC) and the others from Erode and Tiruppur.

Earlier, in a tweet, Union Minister of State for Finance and Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan expressed grief and shock at the loss of life of those who were caught up in the blaze. The minister said he was praying for the fast recovery of those who were injured. He also thanked Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for deploying the IAF team in the rescue effort.

The adventure was part of the Woman's Day activity that was celebrated on Thursday. The trekking expedition was organised by the CTC, an online group of over 40,000 members.

Theni district collector Pallavi Badev meets children, who survived the fire. Firstpost/Naveen Nair

Theni district collector Pallavi Badev meets children, who survived the fire. Firstpost/Naveen Nair

The CTC website does not have any name or number of the persons who are in-charge of the trekking expeditions.

According to the website, the CTC is a non-profit, volunteer group which organises outdoor sports, environmental conservation and social activities throughout the year on weekends and weekday mornings.

"Founded in 2008 the group has grown to one of the most active and largest in South India with over 40,000 members and hundreds of activities throughout the year,"

"All activities are free – expenses are shared equally among participants," says the website

An official of Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services department told IANS that the terrain was tough and the approach to the accident spot was not motorable.

DMK leader MK Stalin also expressed grief over the death of the trekkers.

With inputs from agencies.

Published Date: Mar 12, 2018 17:09 PM | Updated Date: Mar 12, 2018 17:09 PM

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