Chennai, March 11: Fifteen of the 36 trekkers caught up in a forest fire at Kurangani Hills in Theni district were rescued on Sunday even as a massive search and rescue operation was on to rescue the remaining ones, an official said.
"Ten commandos will move to Madurai by a helicopter from Sulur Air Force base and trek to the spot in the night. They will carry medicines and provide medical assistance to the injured," Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted.
The commandos, having access to advanced communication facilities, will also check about the landing facility for the helicopter on Monday morning or decide on other ways of evacuating those stuck on the spot, including the injured, Sitharaman added.
Earlier, on her orders, an Indian Air Force helicopter surveyed the fire-ravaged hills.
She said during the aerial survey, the trekkers had signalled their location to the chopper crew with torchlights.
Sitharaman said she was responding to a request from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Palaniswami for the rescue efforts.
Speaking to the media, Theni District Collector Pallavi Baldev said 15 persons have been rescued and search is on for others. The rescued trekkers have been admitted to nearby hospital.
She said some of those located to Kurangani Hills had suffered burn injuries.
Baldev said there is no motorable road to the spot where the fire raged.
She said 24 trekkers from Chennai Trekking Club and 12 from Erode and Tiruppur had gone to the Kurangani Hills.
She said the trekking group consisted of eight men, 25 women and three children.
Baldev said the trekkers had camped at a place up in the hills on Saturday night and they decided to return on Sunday.
"While the trekkers were coming down, they came across forest fire and the group got divided," she said.
Speaking to the media, a trekker said: "Twenty-four people were from Chennai, of which 22 were girls and two boys. Going up was not possible. I jumped into a rocky pit and escaped. Those who jumped down escaped the fire."
Palaniswami, in a statement, said rescue operations are being carried out on a war footing.
A fire service official from Theni told IANS that ambulances and fire tenders have been sent to the spot. Police and workers from a nearby tea estate are also helping in the rescue.
The official said since the area does not have a good mobile network, full information on the efforts is not available. Senior fire service officials also have gone there.
The Fire Department got information about the incident around 3 p.m., said another fire official.
"One of the trekking team members called 108 Ambulance Service and alerted about the situation. The ambulance service then called us," the official said.
Fire service personnel reached the forest armed with ropes, searchlights and other equipment to climb the hills. The official said the vehicles can ply only till Kurangani Hills.
Up on the hills, there is a tourist spot called 'Otha Maram' (single tree).
"That has become a tourist spot now. From Bodinayakanur, Kurangani Hills is around 12 km. From there one has to trek up to Otha Maram spot," the fire official added.
He said the trekking team could have climbed from the Kerala side also.
The official said it is not known how they reached the spot and if it was with or without the knowledge of the Forest Department.
Palaniswami, Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam and other Ministers met the injured at the hospital.