About 40 college students, who went for trekking in the Kurangini forests in Theni district of Tamil Nadu, were trapped in a forest fire on Sunday evening.
It is the forest fire season in the dry Western Ghats, especially in the Theni and Palani hills and the forest department does not allow any trekking anywhere along the ghats. "Normally such expeditions are not allowed at this time of the year because of recurring forest fires", said H Basavaraju, Principal Conservator of Forests, Tamil Nadu. Southern Command is in touch with Collector of Theni.Just now I have spoken to District Collector. At least 24 of those trapped are from Chennai, said officials.
"We sent a team of forty forest personnel for the rescue. Some of them came down safely while the rest were caught in the fire and still remaining in the hills", she told reporters on Sunday night.
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Stating that the cause of the fire was not known, he said efforts would be taken to strengthen the forest area security further. The sudden spread of fire trapped them. Air force choppers have been stationed in Madurai and will be deployed to rescue as soon as there is enough daylight for them to navigate safely. Officials said Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and Forest Minister Dindigul C Sreenivasan are among those who have reached Bodinayakkanur, the nearest town. Search and rescue operations for the other missing trekkers are on.
A medical team had been sent to the spot and employees of a nearby private tea estate were also assisting in the rescue operations, she said quoting the collector.
There were 25 women and three children in the group.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Theni SP, V Baskaran, said, "A special team of forest and police officers has reached the spot where most of the trekkers are stranded".