Trekkers dead, 17 injured in forest fire in TN

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Stirring a controversy in the forest fire tragedy that took lives of 9 people in Kurangani forest near Theni in Tamil Nadu, the survivors have claimed that they had the permit to trek from the forest department.

Conservator of Forests, Madurai Circle, R.K.Jegania said the Chennai-based trekking club that had organized the expedition from Kurangani to Bodi in the Western Ghats did not get permission from the forest department for the trekking expedition.

The State Forest Department has been directed to take all necessary precautions to prevent forest fires, the statement quoted Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan as saying.

He said after the enquiry no one without permission can climb the forest. The team included 25 women and three children, according to Theni District Collector Mariam Pallavi Baldev.

The fire broke out late Sunday evening when a group of almost 40 people, mostly young college students, went trekking in Kurangini hills in Theni district, 540 kms from state capital Chennai.

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"Kurangani forest fire and its victims is heart rending". The hill is located in Theni district, around 520 km from here.

Officials of Forest, Fire, Police, medical and rescue teams had gone to the spot and were being assisted by the local tribals and employees of nearby tea estates, Baldev said adding the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel were also engaged in the operations.

Meanwhile, the mortuary at the Government Medical College hospital in Theni district witnessed scenes of inconsolable grief on Monday as family members and relatives of the nine persons, who were killed in the forest fire, were subjected to the hard task of identifying the charred bodies of the victims.

It further said there was "no organisational hierarchy in any of the activities or events organised by CTC". "Though we can't confirm the total death toll, one dead body has been brought from the hills and there are other dead bodies as per the rescue team", said health minister C. Vijayabaskar. Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that from Monday early dawn the Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters put out the blaze in a limited area to enable rescue and airlift operations. Eight commandos had already reached the top and had started dousing the fire, it said.