The toll rose to 10 on Monday in the forest fire that broke out in Tamil Nadu’s Theni district on Sunday, The New Indian Express reported. The victims succumbed to burn injuries, hours after multiple groups of trekkers got trapped the blaze.
Teams have rescued 27 people, eight of whom had severe burn injuries. The latest victim died at the Government Rajaji Hospital in Madurai after her family gave the officials permission to take her off the ventilator, The New Indian Express reported.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami said the trekkers had not taken the required permission to be be in the area. “Trekkers should climb hills only after taking the government’s approval,” The New Indian Express quoted Palaniswami as saying. The chief minister announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the family of the deceased.
An operation to find missing people is going on. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had on Sunday asked the Air Force to help rescue the trapped trekkers. She said the Indian Air Force sent 16 Garud commandos to the spot who had rescued a few people late at night. Three choppers have also joined the rescue missions, added Sitharaman.
There are varying figures on the number of people trapped. NDTV reported that 39 people, mostly students, were trapped in the forest fire while The Indian Express reported that at least 65 people were trapped before 15 were rescued, of whom five were seriously injured.
Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam met those rescued at a hospital in Bodi on Sunday night.
A number of groups were on a trek in Theni’s Bodi forest region when the fire broke out. Heavy winds fanned the flames, which reached 10 feet in height at one point and hampered rescue operations.
Conservator of Forests (Madurai Circle) RK Jegania told The Times of India that it was an “illegal trekking expedition”. “Our staff members are coordinating the rescue operations uphill,” he said.
Another unidentified forest official said the trekkers “may have strayed from the trekking path”, and that a shortage of lighting equipment was hampering rescue operations.
Meanwhile, the Kerala government has asked the authorities concerned to stop trekking to the hills until all the fire lines were cleared, said Principal Chief Conservator PK Kesavan, according to Business Standard. The Theni forest area in Tamil Nadu borders Idukki district in Kerala. State police chief Loknath Behra said instructions have been issued to the district police chief to help the rescue operation.