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Six feared dead as fire traps students 

Theni: At least six persons were feared dead on March 11 when a forest fire trapped 40 college students in a tourist spot in the Western Ghats of Theni district of Tamil Nadu.

According to preliminary reports, the students were climbing down the hills above Kurangani hills from Munnar in Kerala to Theni.

The Malayalam television channel “People” reported that at least ten people have perished in the fire. The forest officials and others have rescued 11 people with serious burn wounds. However, other channels reported six deaths.

The Hindu newspaper reported that the students were for trekking without the permission of the forest department. It is the forest fire season in the dry Western Ghats, especially in the Theni and Palani hills. The forest department does not allow any trekking anywhere along the high ranges, the newspaper said.

H Basavaraju, Principal Conservator of Forests, Tamil Nadu, told The Hindu that they have received information that around 40 students were climbing down the hill from Munnar after parking their vehicle. “It seems they were planning to trek down to Bodi town but were trapped in the forest fire,” he said.

The official also they have sent a team of 40 forest personnel to rescue the students. “The first team led by an ACF has made contact with 15 persons, 14 boys and one girl,” he said adding that the other teams are on their way to rescue the remaining students. Apart from the forest personnel, fire and medical teams have also rushed to the hills for the rescue operation, he added.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) had been pressed into action to rescue the students, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharman said. In a tweet, she also said that the Southern Command was in touch with the Theni Collector.

One MI-17 helicopter was en route from Sulur to assess the situation and provide necessary assistance, sources in the Defence Ministry said, adding that the helicopter may undertake another operation on Monday morning, if needed.

Fire tenders have also reached the spot.

Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam has rushed to the spot to take stock of the situation.

A senior police officer has told NDTV that the students from Chennai had gone for trekking but “they did not take permission from police or the forest department.” Local tribal people and forest personnel have reached the students, say police.

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