A forest fire started by five youth in the foothills of Necknamalai, in Alangaya range, claimed the life of a 22-year-old youth and left three others with serious burns, on Wednesday. About 50 hectares of forest area was destroyed in the fire and forest officials nabbed the youth, allegedly responsible for creating the blaze.
The blaze was started by the miscreants, who set fire to dry lemon grass, which spread swiftly due to strong breeze. Madhan Kumar (23), an auto driver of Valayamampattu, and his three friends -- R Balaji (30) of Konamedu in Vaniyambadi, S Naresh (23) and Dinesh (25) of Chinna Illayagaram -- were caught in the fire when they were coming down the hill after attending a temple festival in a tribal village on Wednesday afternoon, forest officials said.
They were rescued by a group of people who were also coming down the hill, along with forest department personnel. They were rushed to the Government Hospital at Vaniyambadi. After administering first aid, they were shifted to the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital, in Chennai.
Forest officials nabbed five youth -- Yousuf (23), Imithyash (19), Shahjahan (23), Sahil (19) and Usman Khan (20) of Nethaji Nagar in Vaniyambadi -- for allegedly starting the fire.
“Smoke was seen emanating near Lala Eri on the foothills, and a team rushed to the spot. They encountered the five youth and arrested them,” a forest official said.
On enquiry, they told the officials they had come to take a bath at a spring near Lala Eri and had set fire to the lemon grass without knowing the consequence. They were booked under Section 21 (b), (c) and (d) of Tamil Nadu Forest Act 1882, while police registered a case against them under Section 308 and 385 of IPC.
Yousuf, Shahjahan and Usman were lodged in Vellore Central Prison for Men, while Imithyash and Sahil were lodged in the Borstal School, police said. It took about 150 people over 18 hours to completely extinguish the fire.
“The fire started around 1.30 pm on Wednesday. We had deployed around 150 personnel from the forest division to put out the flames,” an official attached to Tirupattur Forest Division, said.
Lemon grass grown on around 50 hectares was destroyed in the fire. Several medicinal plants were also reduced to ashes. However, there were no reports of trees destroyed or wild animals killed in the fire. Conservator of Forest of Vellore Circle S Kalyanasundaram and District Forest Officer of Tirupattur Dinkar Kumar inspected the spot.
Madhan Kumar (23) succumbed to burns at the KMC Hospital, in Chennai, while his friends R Balaji (30), S Naresh (23) and Dinesh (25) of Chinna Illayagaram are battling for their lives at the hospital, police said.