Theni forest fire: Blame game over trekking nod on

Organiser breaks silence, says farmers lit the fire to clear grass at the base; claims the group took the regular and clear trail created by local villagers, trekkers.

Published: 14th March 2018 04:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th March 2018 05:26 AM   |  A+A-

Governor Banwarilal Purohit consoling the family member of an injured trekker, who is undergoing treatment at the Government Rajaji Hospital in Madurai on Tuesday. Madurai Collector K Veera Raghava Rao is also seen | K K SUNDAR

By Express News Service

CHENNAI: The Chennai Trekking Club, which organised the trekking camp at Kurangani hills in Theni district, has blamed local farmers for the sudden forest fire.“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 Bodi valley, there were unexpected and unprecedented strong winds that day. As a result, the fire swept across from the base of the hills and spread upwards,” the club said in its Facebook post on Tuesday.

This is the first statement from the club, which had attracted much wrath as it was silent on the tragedy for the last two days and its founder Peter Van Geit was stated to be absconding.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 fee at the forest entry check posts and after getting an entry pass.

“The trekking route from the base at Kurangani to Kozhukkumalai 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. By evening, the team reached Kozhukkumalai tea estate at the top and camped there. On Sunday morning, the group started their descent 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,” it said.The club also stated that the accurate information on where the people were stranded was shared with the forest department. It 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.”The post said the club is a non-profit entity and is in existence for 10 years now.

Congress demands rules to regulate forest expeditions
Chennai: In the wake of the forest fire in Theni district that claimed the lives of 11 trekkers, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president S Thirunavukkarasar on Tuesday demanded that the State government should frame rules to govern and regulate trekking to prevent recurrence of such incidents. “Necessary precautionary measures must be taken to avert such tragedies in future. A thorough probe must be conducted into the incident and rules must be framed to regulate trekking activities,” he said.  He added that even if the trekkers had committed mistakes, the forest department could not abdicate its responsibility. He appealed to Tamil Nadu government to provide a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the families of the deceased trekkers. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has already announced a solatium of Rs 4 lakh to each of the families of the victims.   

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