While the government estimates that at least 20 students have been trapped, local reporters say at least 55 students had gone on the trek.

Over 20 students stuck in Theni forest fire massive rescue operations underway
news Fire Sunday, March 11, 2018 - 20:50

The charred bodies of young women begging to be carried down to safety is just one of the horrific visuals that have emerged from disastrous forest fire in Karuangani near Theni range in TN. Over 20 students (both school and college) are reportedly stuck in this forest fire and 15 have been brought down to waiting ambulances, the others continue to wait for relief as darkness falls.

According to reports, 27 people from Chennai, and 13 people from Tirupur had gone on the trek. The group left from Chennai on Friday and had planned to return on Monday morning.

According to locals, news of the fire reached them at around 3.30 pm. Several of them have then rushed into the mountains to rescue the people who had gone trekking there. While the government estimates that at least 20 students have been trapped, local reporters say at least 55 students had gone on the trek.

Presently, there are varying numbers about number of people rescued.

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.

Forest officer Jai Singh who was coordinating the operation told TNM that they had rescued nine students so far. However, the darkness is making it increasingly difficult for them to carry out operations.

Meanwhile, a family member of one of the women still trapped in the fire told TNM, "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 - one eight and one 11-year-old - have gone along with her. There is no information about them.”

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 the 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.

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.

"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 CM Edappadi Palaniswami addressed the issue in Salem. He said, "Rescue operations are in full swing. We have contacted Defence Minister. We have asked for all helicopters needed for rescue."

"We cannot know where the fire started, it's a huge area. We have to investigate and find out. Security will be beefed up for forest area," he added.

The Hindu reported that the students were trekking down the hills from Chennai to Theni on their own. 

This is also the dry season in Western Ghats, making it succeptible to forest fires, especially in Theni and Palani hills. The forest department has reportedly barred trekking along the ghats.

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