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Madurai circle conservator of forests RK Jagenia confirmed the death of four people to TOI and said that the group came from Suriyanelli in Munnar to a private estate in Kozhukkumalai in Bodinayakkanur. While descending the slopes, the group was caught in a major fire.
Assistant conservator of forests Mahendran said that the group, in a state of panic, strayed from the trekking path and landed up in a gully which is narrow. The area is fully covered with tall lemon grass, which can easily catch fire. The cause of fire was not clearly known.
Two people have been safely rescued and sent to Bodi for treatment, he said.
The rescue of others struck in the area has become very difficult due lack of adequate lighting facilities.
According to a senior official, this is not the right time for trekking activities in Theni forest division as the area is prone to frequent fires.
“A study by the forest department shows that Agamalai West, Periathukombai, Oothamparai and Ulakkaruthiar in the Bodi North hills are some of the areas where incidents of fire occur every dry season. Trekking in these areas has to be avoided,” the official said.
Meanwhile, authorities have launched a massive operation to rescue others caught in fire.
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who was approached by chief minister K Palaniswami for help, said 10-15 students were making their way to the foothills (after being rescued).
In a series of tweets, she also said two helicopters of the Indian Air Force from its Sulur base near Coimbatore were being sent to assist in the rescue operations.