At least nine people, four women, four men and one child, were charred to death in Kurangani area in Tamil Nadu's Theni district in a forest fire on Sunday, the Superintendent of Police confirmed to TNM.
Six of the victims hail from Chennai, while three others are from Erode.
Thirty-seven people consisting of 26 women, 8 men and 3 children were part of the trek, and they were coming down the slopes from Bodinayyakanur when they got trapped in the forest fire. As of 6am on Monday, 27 people were rescued and at least 8 of them have suffered severe burn injuries. Many survivors are reported to be in critical condition. Three missing school children were found near Munnar on Monday.
Of the two trekkers group, one was of 13 people hailing from Tirupur and Erode, and another group of 24 people were from Chennai. The Chennai group had started to Theni on March 9, Friday.
Speaking to TNM late on Sunday night, RK Jagenia, Madurai circle Conservator of Forests said, "Four people have died, that is confirmed. Right now, around 12 people are in hospital in Bodi. They are being given treatment. 10 more are being brought down, 11 are yet to be brought down. Tonight, we will complete rescue efforts. In the morning also we will search the area."
Those rescued by teams that had been combing the forests were taken to a hospital in Bodinayakkanur and the three children in the group are reported to be stable and not in any danger.
Pallavi Baldev, District Collector Theni said, "The group reached Kollukumalai on Saturday morning, they had camped in an estate and were returning when they got caught in the forest fire. They panicked and the group got scattered. All government machinery has been pressed into action. Rescue operations have been expedited."
The Collector added that the rescue of others struck in the area has become very difficult due lack of adequate lighting facilities.
People who organise treks in this regions and senior officials told various media outlets that this was not the right time for trekking in these regions that were prone to sudden fires due to the dry conditions.
Locals and residents of the nearby village had gotten to know about the fire in the afternoon, around 3:30 pm. 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.
More than 10 ambulances and several medical teams were rushed to the spot.
As soon as news of the fire broke, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted saying she had asked the Indian Air Force to help with rescue and that the Southern Command of the Indian Air Force was in touch with the Theni District Collector.