Operation on to rescue trekkers in Tamil Nadu forest fire

Tamil Nadu At least 20 college students caught in forest fire Air Force to help rescue them

Kerala Forest Department on Monday banned trekking in forest areas with immediate effect after wildfire claimed several lives in the Korangani Hills near Theni in Kerala-Tamil Nadu border area on Sunday.

Forest officials said the trekkers tried to take refuge inside a dried up stream but the dried grass in the stream quickly caught fire. In all, 23 people were evacuated in a massive rescue operation throughout Sunday night, involving over 250 personnel of fire, police and revenue departments besides the Indian Air Force.

Conservator of Forests, Madurai Circle, R.K.Jegania said the Chennai-based trekking club that had organized the expedition from Kurangani to Bodi in the Western Ghats did not get permission from the forest department for the trekking expedition.

The search operation of other trekkers were on, he said, adding that those rescued had been admitted to a local government hospital for minor injuries.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, 'Sixteen Garuds with medical team walked up and reached the trapped victims at 3 am.

On the possibility of forest fire, he explained that the scorching sun and severe drought condition and the leaves frequently falling to the ground, any small fire could spread fast leading to severe damage. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been pressed into service for rescue operations.

The DC confirmed that among the deceased are four women, four men, and a child.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Monday ordered a probe into the incident. As the enormity of the situation unfolded, Palaniswami tonight said rescue operations were underway on a war footing and the state had sought two helicopters from the Defence Ministry.

It was later gleaned that the trekking team, majority of them women, had embarked on trekking as part of Woman's Day activity.

He said the trekking team could have climbed from the Kerala side also.

The students were from colleges in the districts of Coimbatore and Erode in Tamil Nadu and were on a trekking expedition.

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