15 of 40 trekkers rescued from Theni forest fire

Theni: About 25 trekkers, some of them women, are feared trapped in raging fire deep in the reserve forest atop the Kurangani hills near here  even as massive rescue operations by multiple agencies, including the Indian Air Force, managed to rescue around 15 and rushed them to the government hospital with burn injuries.

With little or no communication facilities in the remote woods, due to lack of mobile phone towers, information was hard to get. However, tribals and some local villagers rushing in to volunteer help have been providing invaluable support to the rescue teams that took time to reach the spot braving the fire. First information said the trekkers were mostly from Chennai, Tirupur and Erode. They had gone in batches to spend the weekend in the forest and planned to return Sunday evening.


First reports, obtained from video shots from mobiles used by some local rescuers, showed the victims, many of them girls, in great pain and crying for water. Some of them had their dresses in tatters and burnt, bodies badly burnt and bruised. They were terrible visuals.

“Forest officials could be at fault. They should have either stopped these people from going in, considering there have been sporadic and widespread forest fire during the last few days in the region”, said an official involved in the tough rescue operation, requesting anonymity.

The thick smoke, heat from the high flames and night fall made the rescue work difficult even as more help was expected, thanks to the instructions from Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman to the IAF and also the steps taken by Chief Minister K. Palaniswami. “15 people have been rescued from the fire so far. All rescued have been admitted to Bodinayyakanur government hospital for treatment. Special medical teams have been sent to Bodinayyakanur hospital,” Health Minister C Vijayabhaskar wrote on his official Twitter page. Sources said some of the rescued have suffered serious burn injuries.

It was not immediately known how long these people were stranded, but the news broke a little after 5 pm on Sunday when the ever-alert Sitharaman took to Twitter to announce that IAF helicopters will join the operations to rescue those caught in the fire. State fire services sources said they got information from one of the trekking members at around 3 pm and they pressed several teams into rescue mission immediately.

Videos and photos shared on social networking sites showed how tough it would have been for the rescuers to bring the people, stuck amid the difficult hillside and the raging flames, to safety due to the tough terrain. The videos also narrated the harrowing tales of those rescued and brought to hospitals. Since the fire took place in an area where the mobile network is not good, getting information proved to be very tough for both the officials and media.

A senior district forest official said personnel from the Forest Department were assisting the rescue team in saving the people from the spot. 

Medical staff that waited in ambulances on foothills administered first aid to the girls rescued from forest fire before shifting them to near-by hospitals. Theni collector Mariam Pallavi Baldev visited the rescued women at hospitals and assured them of all help.

Police said the students from Coimbatore and Erode were taking training in Kurangai-Kozhuku Hill area when the fire suddenly broke out around noon. District Superintendent of Police V Baskaran and revenue and forest officials were taking steps to rescue the students from the trapped site.

Officials said the Defence Minister told the District collector to expedite the rescue operations in coordination with the other department officials including, the Air Force.  Sources said 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.

No Conspiracy Here