Nine charred bodies retrieved from the hill site, one more succumbs at GRH, Madurai.Seven of the victims from Chennai, the rest from Erode district; CM announces solatium.The toll could mount as eight other trekkers sustained severe burn injuries, say doctors.
THENI / MADURAI: A day after a massive forest fire in the Kurangani Reserve Forest in Theni district killed at least 10 trekkers, gut-wrenching stories emerged of how a couple of days of adventure extinguished young lives bubbling with hope and aspiration.
One of them was that of a newly married couple, Vivek (25) and Divya. Vivek hailed from Erode and worked in Dubai. Divya is from Chennai. The wedding happened barely three months ago.
Vivek had returned home on vacation and was trying to get visa for Divya to take her to Dubai when he heard about the trek. He along with his wife joined the 12-member group from west Tamil Nadu at Kurangani in the Bodi area on Saturday. The couple were on their descent from a hill when they first saw the wildfire.
The scared trekkers started running and in the melee, Vivek and Divya were separated. While Divya was rescued with severe burn injuries, Vivek’s body was later found charred the fire. Vivek’s father Natarajan was inconsolable as he identified the body at the government medical college hospital in Theni. The body was retrieved by rescue workers and put on a helicopter — because of the inaccessible terrain — and brought to the hospital.
Divya sustained 90 per cent burn injuries and was admitted at Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH), Madurai, battling for life.There were tales of grit as well. Kannan (26) from Erode district was among the panicked trekkers, but managed to come out safe. When he noticed his friends among the trekkers were missing, he went back in search of them. But he was caught in the fire and sustained 70 per cent burn injuries.
Now recuperating at the GRH, he told his relative Somu: “As it was very dark, I slipped and fell into the flames.” Kannan works in a textile unit.Chennai-based Jayasri (32), too, sustained 70 per cent burn injuries. She had joined the group of 24 from the city who had gone trekking. “Around 6.00 pm on Sunday, Jayasri called us to inform about the fire. We later learnt that she sustained injuries and she was taken to the Madurai GRH. We are waiting for the doctors to let us know about her condition,” said Selvarani, Jayasri’s mother.
In all, nine trekkers who sustained severe burn injuries were referred to GRH for treatment. Parents and relatives of the injured persons swarmed the hospital upon hearing the news. GRH Dean Dr D Maruthupandian said each patient undergoing treatment at the hospital has been assigned a doctor and a nurse.
“Immediately, the Forest Survey of India was notified. Unlike states like Maharashtra and Karnataka, Tamil Nadu government has not shared its territorial forest officials’ numbers with the NRSC to get near real-time forest fire SMS alerts. These alerts reduce the response time to disasters and rescue operations,” he said.
Y V N Krishnamurthy, director, NRSC, told Express that the forest fire alert in Kurangani Hills was sent to the Forest Survey of India by 2 pm on Sunday. He said there was no forest fire on Saturday. “We have 375 metres and 1 km resolution satellite imagery and there was no fire detected on Saturday near Kurangani Hills. It’s not a major forest fire. It was detected only in 375-metre resolution. However, it happened in a critical point used by trekkers, which caused the causality.”
Krishnamurthy requested the Tamil Nadu government to enter into an understanding with the NRSC to receive instantaneous alerts. “In a recently held meeting with the state government, I raised the issue. The arrangement will help during the times of crisis,” he said and added that as there was no forest fire detected on Monday, it meant the blaze had been contained.
Meanwhile, H Basavaraju, Principal Conservator of Forests, Tamil Nadu Forest Department, said the organisers had not obtained permission from the department. “We are planning to regulate the entire trekking activities. Once the survivors are out of shock, we will get more details like from where they entered the reserve forest etc. Appropriate action will be initiated,” he said.