(MENAFN- Gulf Times) At least 10 trekkers have died in a forest fire in Tamil Nadu while 30 more, mostly women, were rescued and hospitalised, police said yesterday.
The fire broke out in the Kurangani hills in the district of Theni, where two groups comprising mostly women, were returning from a trek organised to mark last week's International Women's Day.
On their way back on Sunday, the groups became trapped on the hills, surrounded by the fire.
A rescue operation involving Indian Air Force helicopters was launched.
'Of the 39 trapped, 10 trekkers, six women and four men, died in the fire due to burn injuries. Thirty more were rescued in overnight operations, police inspector T Murugan said.
The victims were between the ages of 25 and 35.
'It seems that the victims deviated from the regular trail. This is a popular trekking spot, Theni district official S Kandasamy said.
He said the fire is still burning uncontrollably in the region bordering Kerala, some 540km from Chennai.
Media reports and police said the groups comprised students as well as employees of a company in Chennai.
Ten among the injured suffered serious burns and the death toll could rise, doctors treating them at nearby hospitals said.
Many jumped onto boulders to escape the blaze, NDTV network reported.
Footage on television showed disturbing visuals of injured women, writhing in pain, unable to move due to their injuries.
Local agencies were carrying out an intensive search to determine if more people were stranded on the hills.
Operations to douse the fire were underway.
Police also launched an investigation after forest officials said the organisers had not obtained permission for the trek and had not informed local officials.
Chief Minister K Palaniswami ordered a probe and announced a compensation of Rs 400,000 each to the families of the dead, Rs 100,000 each to the seriously injured and Rs50,000 each to those who suffered minor injuries.
Independent legislator and All India Anna Dravida Menntra Kazhagam rebel leader T T V Dinakaran said the careless attitude of the Forest Department was the main reason for the tragedy.
He said the forest fire has been raging for the past 15 days but the Forest Department had not issued any warning.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M K Stalin expressed grief over the death of the trekkers while Pattali Makkal Katchi founder S Ramadoss demanded streamlining of trekking activity.
Meanwhile, Kerala has temporarily banned trekking in its forests after the devastating fire in its neighbouring state.
Kerala has a total reserved forest cover of 11,309 sq km or 29.1% of its geographical area and most of its trekking destinations are along this border.
The state attracts a million foreign and 10mn domestic tourists a year and trekking is a major attraction for young holidaymakers.
The state's Principal Chief Conservator of Forests P K Kesavan said orders were issued to 'stop trekking to hills and ensure that all fire lines are cleared.
People are not being allowed inside forest areas without permission and the authorities have cancelled all programmes there, including trekking.
'(Officials) will critically review the fire sensitivity of the areas where visitors are to be taken, assess their safety, and only after convincing themselves that the visit is safe, the areas will be opened, he said.
Expressing grief over the tragedy, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the district administration and police in the Idukki district were co-ordinating with their Tamil Nadu counterparts in rescue operations.
'(I have) entrusted the Forest Department to take all precautions to prevent wildfires, he said in a statement.
'It has also been decided to dig ponds in forests to ensure potable water available for wild animals.
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