Death toll in the forest fire near Theni, in Tamil Nadu, on Sunday that has killed 10 people so far is likely to go up, with at least four victims being treated in different Madurai hospitals said to have suffered severe burn injuries.
The Tamil Nadu government on Monday ordered a probe into the fire and assured action against those who allegedly arranged for the trekking expedition without permission.
Chief Minister K Palaniswami said 10 seven women and three men were killed in the fire at Kurangani Hill ranges in Western Ghats. Palaniswami also said that the trekkers, who were part of an expedition on the occasion of Women’s Day, had gone there without permission, and that strict action will be taken in future against those who undertake such expeditions without permission of the authorities, according to PTI.
At Government Rajaji Hospital in Madurai, an official said that of eight critical care patients admitted there, three have suffered over 90 per cent burn injuries, and three others have more than 70-per cent burns. All eight are women between 25 and 30 years. “We are closely monitoring the situation,” the official said.
“Trekkers should climb hills only after taking the government’s nod,” Palaniswami was quoted saying by PTI today. He said permission for trekking is not given in the months of March, April and May as high forest ranges are dry, with the possibility of fires spreading fast, PTI reports.
While police sources in Theni confirmed that they have taken one of the organisers of a Chennai-based trekking club custody, the expedition was organised by the Chennai Trekkers Club. The club’s office was found closed on Monday, according to officials.
Theni SP, V Baskaran, said the trekkers probably picked the wrong path, which made the situation worse. “We have no evidence to suspect it was a manmade fire. There were fire incidents in the area for the past few days. When heavy wind fanned the flames, probably the wrong direction they took to escape…some of them may have got trapped in the fire probably,” he said.
On permission for the trekking expedition, the officer said the forest department will know best about possible violations. Monisha, 30, an engineer working with a private firm in Chennai, who is one of the trekkers who escaped the fire with minor injuries, told The Indian Express that they were trapped by the heavy wind. “We left Kurangani base camp for trekking on Saturday morning. There were 35 members in our team, including a few children. By 2.30 pm on Sunday, we could smell smoke when we were on our way back.
“Within five minutes, we saw a huge fire — it was spreading faster than we could escape…we got scared and strayed on different paths.” She said 10 members, including her, took shelter on the other side of the hill and were rescued by about 6.30 pm. Monisha said she knew most of those killed in the accident.