The death toll in Tamil Nadu’s Kurangani Hills forest fire increased to 11 on Tuesday, with a 29-year-old Divya from Erode succumbing to severe burn injuries.
Meanwhile, a 30-year-old man, believed to be a tour guide who led a 36-member trekking group on an ill-fated expedition in the district, has been arrested.
In the meantime, Chennai Trekking Club has alleged that the forest fire was was caused by local farmers.
In a Facebook post, it said, “As a normal seasonal cultivation practice, local farmers at the base burn grass during this season and on Sunday it seems they light the grass at the base. Due to an unusual low depression in the Bodi valley, there were unexpected and unprecedented strong winds on Sunday. As a result, the fire swept across from the base of the hills and spread across the hill upwards.”
The statement said 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 fire in the opposite direction.
“On Sunday afternoon soon after CTC reached out to the local guide who was with the trekking group; one of the few who was reachable by phone gave us accurate information on the location of the group,” it said.
It added: “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.”