A forest fire erupted in Theni on Sunday evening, trapping at least 20 students (both school and college), who had gone trekking. While the government estimates that at least 20 students are trapped, local reporters say at least 55 students had gone on the trek.
The forests in Kurangani near Theni range caught fire on Sunday evening. It is feared the students who had gathered at the range for mountain climbing have been trapped in the blaze. One student is feared dead.
Multiple teams including from the fire service, police, and defence forces have been pressed into service for rescue operations.
Locals, residents of the nearby village, had gotten to know about the fire in th evening around 3.30pm. According to a person from the rescue team who spoke to the Tamil media, about 200 locals are helping with rescue efforts. Doctors are also reportedly at the spot.
Forest officer Jai Singh who was coordinating the operation told TNM that they had rescued 9 students so far. However, the darkness is making it increasingly difficult for them to carry out operations.
As soon as news of the fire broke, the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted saying she had asked the Indian Force to help with rescue and that the Southern Command of the Indian Air Force was in touch with the Theni district collector.
Responding to the request from the Hon @CMOTamilNadu on the forest -fire related issue -20 students are caught in Kurangani, Theni district. Instructed @IAF_MCC to help in rescue and evacuation. The Southern Command is in touch with the Collector of Theni. @ThanthiTV @pibchennai— Nirmala Sitharaman (@nsitharaman) March 11, 2018
"The helicopter left from Sulur and will reach the place of fire by 8pm. But it is unsure if the helicopters can do rescue mission at this hour. Some of the girls are able to walk and they are being brought down. Ambulances are on standby. People from nearby places, officials, doctors and others are also involved in rescue under directions of the District Collector," she said.
The Defence Minister says 15 students were being brought down but it is tough to say they exact number of those stuck in the fire. She reiterated that the important focus now was to douse the fire.
TN Health Minister Vijaya Baskar told media persons that eight rescued students had reached the hospital and only one has suffered burns. He added that a doctor from the rescue team had reached the peak and was giving treatment to 10 people who are stuck there.
Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Dr Harsh Vardhan tweeted, "The forest fire in Theni district of TN is reportedly massive. Forest staff assisted by police, army, locals are trying to control and douse the fire. Seven students reportedly received severe burns and have been hospitalised. Medical teams with ambulances are also assisting."
#TheniFire-The forest fire in Theni district of TN is reportedly massive. Forest staff assisted by police/army/locals are trying to control & douse the fire. Seven students reportedly recd severe burns and have been hospitalised. Medical teams with ambulances are also assisting.— Dr. Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) March 11, 2018
Speaking to TNM, a family member of one of the women still trapped in the fire rued, "We don't know anything. We have no idea what is going on, they are not telling us. It’s not just my sister, her two kids have gone along with her. An 8-year-old and an 11-year-old. There is no information about them.”
Visuals emerging from the forest showed rings of fire across the forest. 15 persons are believed to have been rescued.
It is learnt that one helicopter from the the nearby Sulur Air Force Station is on standby for medical emergencies and is awaiting the district administration’s nod to enter service.