Trekkers paid necessary government fees: Chennai Trekking Club
Chennai, March 13 (IANS) The Chennai Trekking Club (CTC) team that lost some of its members killed in the forest fire in Tamil Nadu’s Kurangani Hills had necessary official permission, paid the government fees and took safety precautions, according to a statement issued by the online group on Tuesday.
Their response came after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K. Palaniswami on Monday said the trekkers did not have the necessary permission to trek.
Eleven trekkers – out of 36 trekkers belonging to two different groups – lost their lives in the inferno on Kurangani Hills in Theni district, 520 km from here.
In its statement, the CTC said that the 27-member group, led by two experienced trek organisers, and accompanied by a local guide, started off from Kurangani at the base on Saturday and paid fees at the forest entry check-post who issued an entry pass.”
“The trekking route from the base at Kurangani to Kollukumalai on top is 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 and by evening, the team reached the Kollukumalai tea estate at the top and camped there,” the statement added.
According to the CTC, the group started their descent on Sunday morning back through the same trail they went up by and reached close to mid-point when they came across smoke from the rapidly-spreading fire.
Local farmers at the base, as a normal seasonal cultivation practice, seems to have lit the grass and strong winds spread the fire across the hill base and upwards, it said, adding that some of the survivors reported that there was very limited reaction time due to the fast spreading smoke.
As soon as smoke was noticed the team proceeded downhill away from the smoke but got blocked by the fire, it said, adding that the CTC reached out to the local guide trekking with the group and got their location.
“This critical information was immediately shared with the Forest Department along with participant details and helped in the search and rescue operations. In the evening CTC put together and sent an experienced team to Theni to provide on-ground support,” the statement added.
“We also came to know that Dhivya Muthukumaran, one of the participants, rescued three people and went back to save others, but could not get back. She lost her life in her efforts to save the lives of her team mates,” the statement added.