- Nine of 39 trekkers who were trapped in forest fire in Tamil Nadu die
- Indian Air Force helicopters are searching for more stranded trekkers
- 30 people, mostly students, have been rescued and taken to hospital
The fire broke out in the Kurangini hills in Theni district, when a group of 25 women and three children was returning from a trek organised by the Chennai Trekking Club to mark Women's Day. On their way back on Sunday, the group was trapped on a hillock, surrounded by fire.
Many jumped on the boulders below to escape the blaze. A video taken from the hills before sunset on Sunday shows disturbing visuals of some women lying down, unable to move, indicating burn injuries.
"It seems that the victims deviated from the regular trail. This is a popular trekking spot," Theni district official S Kandasamy told news agency AFP. He said the blaze is still raging uncontrollably in the forest.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman instructed the air force to help in the rescue efforts on a request from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palanisamy. Ms Sitharaman said, "We are also bringing in an ALH, which is a light helicopter so that the manoeuvrability will be better because this cliff is almost a vertical hillock, which goes up very sharply and there is not much not of a level ground where they can land."
Theni borders Kerala's Thekkady, home to the famous Periyar National Park.
"Rescue and relief are on a war footing," said the Chief Minister.
The trekkers, including 27 people from Chennai and a dozen more from Erode and Tirupur, were all returning in smaller groups from their trek to the Kurangani hills. The initial rescue effort was started by locals and forest officials.
Most of the trekker had spent Saturday night at an estate and started to trek down on Sunday.
"30 of the 39 trekkers trapped in the fire on a hillock have been located and being taken to the foothills for treatment," a senior police office in the region, Baskaran, told NDTV. A team of Kerala police has also been sent to Theni for the rescue.
"We are carrying all the injured to the foothills to begin treatment at the earliest," Pallavi Baldev, the District Collector said. A few of those rescued have severe burn injuries and have been moved to government hospitals in Madurai, 75 km away.
A senior police officer told NDTV on Sunday that the students who had gone for trekking "did not take permission from police or the forest department".
There have been many fires over the last few days in the region.