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Theni forest fire: a trek that ended in tragedy

Five trekkers killed as fires engulf forests in Tamil Nadu

Rescue operations on in Theni to trace those missing

March 12, 2018 01:06 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:56 pm IST - CHENNAI/Theni

Several students are trapped in a major forest fire near the Kurangani hills in Theni district of Tamil Nadu on Sunday.

Several students are trapped in a major forest fire near the Kurangani hills in Theni district of Tamil Nadu on Sunday.

Tragedy struck a group of trekkers in southern Tamil Nadu, as forest fires killed at least five girls and left many others injured in Kolukkumalai area close to Kurangini in Theni district on Sunday.

The trekkers, aged between 8 and 30 years, were trapped in the intense blaze that swept through the remote forests in the Western Ghats, and rescuers struggled to reach them.

Sources in the police and forest departments said the identities of the deceased could not be established since the bodies were charred beyond recognition.


Of the trekkers, 24 – most of them women — were taken on an expedition by the Chennai Trekking Club and 13 others belonged to Tirupur and Erode.

The group of 37 comprised 26 women, three children and eight men, Theni Collector Pallavi Baldev told journalists after interacting with survivors.

Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was coordinating rescue operations with the State government, which had pressed multiple agencies including personnel of the forests, fire and rescue services, police and health departments to trace those trapped and administer medical aid.


Locals were among the first to reach out to the injured trekkers. Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan said she didn’t have any authenticated information about the casualties.

While the injured were shifted to the Bodi GH, rescuers were trying to locate about a dozen girls who moved into a cave uphill, police sources quoted an injured girl as saying.

The rescue operations slowed down after darkness and due to unfriendly terrain. With no mobile network in the affected area, communication was cut off and rescuers managed with wireless systems.

The trekkers had gone up to Kolukkumalai on Saturday and were climbing down on Sunday afternoon. According to locals, forest fires have been raging for the past one week in Bodi and Theni hills and the intensity was much higher than previous years.

H. Basavaraju, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Tamil Nadu, said “They did not take permission from Forest Department. We sent a team of 40 forest personnel for the rescue.”


Inspector General of Police (South Zone) Shailesh Kumar Yadav told The Hindu said that 17 persons have been rescued. Seven of the rescued were identified as A Rajasekar (29) of Tirupur, S. Bavana (12) of Tirupur, S. Negha (9) of Erode, S. Sadhana (11) of Tirupur, D. Monika (30) of Chennai and P. Puja (27) of Velachery and K. Sahana (20) Chromepet in Chennai.

By night, 30 personnel from the Fire and Rescue Services Department reached Kurangani.


Around 20 ambulances mobilised from Theni, Periyakulam, Bodi and Chinnamanur were positioned at Kurangani check post to transport injured to the near the primary health centre and to the Bodi GH.

Separately, Kerala police joined the rescue and relief operations. According to P.S. Rajasekharan, Deputy Director, Police Information Centre, Kerala, a team led by Munnar DSP had gone to the site. Medicines and food were also despatched and the Kerala Fire Department too was put on alert.

( With inputs from K.  Raju in Dindigul and  S Sundar in Madurai )

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