Ten trekkers have died and 14 seriously injured in a massive forest fire on the Kurangani Hills here in Tamil Nadu, an official said on Monday. Chief Minister K. Palaniswami ordered a probe into the incident.
The hill is located in Theni district, around 520 km from here. Speaking to IANS on phone, a Revenue Department official in Madurai said: "The injured have been admitted to hospitals in Madurai. As per our information, they have suffered burn injuries of up to 40 per cent."
The Chief Minister has ordered a solatium of Rs 400,000 each to the families of the dead, Rs 100,000 each to the seriously injured and Rs 50,000 each to those who suffered minor injuries. According to the official, one person after getting admitted to the Government Hospital in Madurai got himself transferred to a private hospital and another person left for Chennai.
"Of the 27 rescued from the hills, 10 persons did not suffer any injuries and others suffered burn injuries," Theni District Collector Pallavi Baldev told reporters. Nine persons lost their lives in the hills and one in the hospital.
Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters brought the remains of eight of the killed from the hills. The bodies have been sent for identification and would be handed over to the relatives after autopsy. Speaking to reporters, Palaniswami said the trekking expedition had been done without getting the necessary permission from the Forest Department.
Independent legislator and sidelined AIADMK leader T.T.V. Dinakaran said the careless attitude of the Forest Department was the main reason for the deaths. He said the forest fire was reported in the Kurangani Hills for the past 15 days but the Forest Department had not issued any prior warning notice.
DMK leader M.K. Stalin expressed grief over the death of the trekkers while PMK founder S. Ramadoss demanded streamlining of trekking activity. The IAF mounted a search and rescue operation on 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.
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. 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 www.chennaitrekkers.org A Fire and Rescue Services department official told IANS that the Kurangani terrain was tough and the approach to the disaster spot was not motorable.