Theni Forest Fire: 10 Killed in TN, Trek Organiser Arrested

The expedition was undertaken without getting the necessary permissions from the forest department, the CM said.

5 min read
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One of the organisers of the Chennai Trekking Club was taken into police custody on Monday, 12 March after at least 10 trekkers were charred to death in a massive forest fire that broke out suddenly in the Kurangani hills in Tamil Nadu’s Theni a day earlier.

The fire trapped around 37 people, most of them women, with 27 rescued so far. Of the rescued persons, 10 of them have minor injuries, while 8 have serious injuries.

Although one organiser, Rajesh, was arrested, according to The Indian Express, the trek was organised by different independent groups. The Chennai Trekking Club was found closed on Monday by police officials who approached its office in Palavakkam to make enquiries.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Palaniswami said the trekking expedition had been done without getting the necessary permissions from the forest department. He has ordered a detailed probe into the incident.

He has also announced compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the family of the deceased. Rs 1 lakh would be given to those who are suffering with severe burns and Rs 50,000 for those with minor burns.


Tough Rescue Operations

Rescue operations were being taken up by the fire and forest department officials with the Indian Air Force sending four helicopters on the directives of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman after she was approached for help by Palaniswami.

The commandos were equipped with GPS & satellite phones to navigate & keep in touch with the Air Base and local authorities. They assisted in giving first aid & safely evacuating the students. ‘As a result of efforts, 27 of 36 stranded were rescued,’ tweeted the Defence Ministry.

According to ANI, 16 commandos of Garud Commando Force and four choppers from the Indian Air Force, with one of them at standby, have been at the search and rescue operation since Monday morning.

  • Chief Minister O Panneerselvam meets the injured who at the Bodi public hospital.

    (Photo Courtesy: PTI)


Prime Minister Narendra Modi appreciated the Defence Minister Niramala Sitharaman for the rescue and relief operations in the wake of the forest fire. Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu expressed his condolences on Twitter.

The helicopters undertook a survey of the area and returned to neighbouring Madurai. They were expected to join the rescue operation later, Theni District Collector Mariam Pallavi Baldev had said earlier in the night.

A total of 37 people in two separate groups reached Kolukkumalai for trekking on Saturday. They camped in an estate and were returning when the fire broke out in forest...15 people have received burn injuries.
Mariam Pallavi Baldev, District Collector, Theni

State Health Minister C Vijayabaskar, in a tweet on Sunday, said 15 of those trapped in the Kurangani hills had been rescued and were being treated for injuries at the government hospital in Bodinayakanur in the district in southern Tamil Nadu.

I have got calls from people that some are in unconscious state due to fire. 
C Vijayabaskar
 The expedition was undertaken without getting the necessary permissions from the forest department, the CM said.
Injured trekkers caught in the forest fire being brought to a Government Medical College hospital in Theni.
(Photo Courtesy: PTI)

The rescue operation had been affected as night had fallen and wild animals had also started leaving the area where the fire was raging in a vast stretch, officials said.

While initial reports said those trapped were students, officials later said the victims, belonging to two groups, were young women and men and three children who were on a mountain climbing/trekking training.


The fire situation looked very serious but could be controlled, an official told PTI on condition of anonymity.

He also said the trekkers had not taken the permission or security for going to the deep forest area.  

As the enormity of the situation unfolded, Palaniswami said rescue operations were underway on a war footing.

His deputy O Panneerselvam, Forest Minister Dindigul C Srinivasan, and top officials were overseeing the operations, on his request, Palaniswami had told reporters in Salem on Sunday evening.

Stating that the cause of the fire was not known, Palaniswami said efforts would be taken to strengthen the forest area security further.


Sitharaman remained in touch with the District Collector and directed the Indian Air Force to coordinate in the rescue operations.

In a series of tweets on Sunday evening, she said two helicopters of the Indian Air Force from its Sulur base near Coimbatore were being sent to assist in the rescue operations.


A medical team had been sent to the spot and employees of a nearby private tea estate were also assisting in the rescue operations, the defence minister had said quoting the collector.

Baldev, who met the rescued persons and spoke to them, had later told reporters that a 12-member group from Tiruppur and Erode and another comprising 24 people from Chennai, on a trekking camp, reached Kurangani hills on Saturday. They included 25 women and three children.

After staying overnight at an estate in Kozhukumalai, they started their return journey to the plains on Sunday when they heard about the sudden forest fire and got separated while attempting to find a safe way.

 The expedition was undertaken without getting the necessary permissions from the forest department, the CM said.
Relatives of the injured trekkers wait outside the hospital premises as many of their children are critical.
(Photo Courtesy: PTI)
Kurangani-Kozhukumalai hills are located near Bodinayakanur, about 40 km from Theni.

Officials of Forest, Fire, Police, medical and rescue teams had gone to the spot and were being assisted by the local tribals and employees of nearby tea estates, Baldev said adding the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel were also engaged in the operations.

It is dark, it is a hilly place and it is not a motorable road. After a particular distance we have to go by walk and there is a situation were we need to lift and carry the injured physically. It will definitely take time.
Mariam Pallavi Baldev, District Collector, Theni

District Superintendent of Police V Baskaran and revenue and forest officials were also overseeing the operations.


Names of the Deceased & Rescued Released

Officials have released the names of the nine casualties, as well as the rescued persons, The News Minute reported.

The names of the victims are:

  1. Akhila (Chennai)
  2. Hemalatha (Chennai)
  3. Punitha (Chennai)
  4. Subha (Chennai)
  5. Arun (Coimbatore)
  6. Vipin (Coimbatore)
  7. Tamilchelvan (Erode)
  8. Vivek (Erode)
  9. Divya (Erode)

Officials also released the names of some of the people who’ve been rescued but are in critical condition.

  1. Anuvidya (Chennai)
  2. Nisha (Chennai)
  3. Kannan (Erode)
  4. Divya (Erode)
  5. Devi (Salem)
  6. Meena (Kerala)

A list of names of those who suffered minor injuries was also put out:

  1. Elakkiya (Chennai)
  2. Prabhu (Erode)
  3. Sabitha (Erode)
  4. Hemlatha (Madurai)
  5. Swetha (Chennai)
  6. Nisha (Salem)
  7. Kanan (Erode)

The trekkers who managed to escape with no injuries at all are:

  1. Rajasekar (Tiruppur)
  2. Bavana (Tiruppur)
  3. Nega (Erode)
  4. Sathana (Tiruppur)
  5. Monisha (Chennai)
  6. Sahana (Chennai)
  7. Nivetha (Chennai)

For details and help, you can contact the Madurai GRH at 9445000586 and 9994793321 and Theni GH at 0454-6263617.

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