CHENNAI: Days after being criticised for being silent over the deaths of trekkers in the forest fire at the Kurangani hills, camp organisers Chennai Trekking Club pointed at the farmers for starting the fire.
The club in its Facebook post on Tuesday wrote, “As a normal seasonal cultivation practice, local farmers at the base burn grass during this season and on Sunday it seems they lit the grass at the base.
“Due to an unusual low depression in the Bodi valley, there were unexpected and unprecedented strong winds on Sunday. As a result, the fire swept across from the base of the hills and spread across the hill upwards,” wrote the CTC.
This is the first statement from the club, which garnered a lot of criticism because of its silence on the tragedy and the apparent absconding of its club founder Peter Van Geit.
Expressing condolences to the families of the deceased, the post narrated the sequence of events and maintained that the trek started on March 10, only after paying fees at the forest entry check posts and after getting an entry pass.
The post said, "The trekking route from the base at Kurangani to Kollukumalai on top was a regular and a clear trail created by local villagers and trekkers. On Saturday morning, when the group started to trek, there was no sign of fire in the entire forest range and by evening the team reached the Kollukumalai tea estate at the top and camped there.
The post continued, "On Sunday morning the group started their descent back towards the exit through the same trail they went up by and reached close to mid-point of the exit." This was when the post said the fire spread quickly leaving little time for the trekkers to react.
“As soon as smoke was noticed the team proceeded downhill away from the smoke but got blocked by fire in the opposite direction.” The club has stated that the accurate information on where the people were stranded was shared with the forest department.
It also said two among the trekkers — Arun and Vibin — were trained in survival skills. "It is hard to accept that they lost their lives in this unfortunate incident."