There were many groups out for trekking, including students from Coimbatore and Erode, and another with women and children. Of those rescued, 18 were injured, Kandasamy said.
IAF choppers, including an MI-17 from Sulur, were brought in for aerial survey and rescue. The blaze left faces of a few women trekkers disfigured, making identification a challenge for the health department, he added. "Trekkers should climb hills only after taking the government's nod". The Tamil Nadu government has ordered a probe into the incident. The chances of forest fire is due to the drying up of trees and grass inside the forest because of the severe summer heat.
The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority on Monday issued a statement confirming a temporary ban on trekking in the state. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami had said on Monday they had not taken the required permission to be in the area.
Sources said a couple of officials deputed to make enquiries at the group's office at Palavakkam found it closed.
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On Sunday, a 36-member trekking team was caught in the fire in Kurangani-Kozhukumalai hills in Western Ghats located near Bodinayakanur, 40 km from Theni and 500 km from Chennai.
"All activities are free - expenses are shared equally among participants", the website www.chennaitrekkers.org says. Another trekking group of about 12 members from Coimbatore region were also trapped in the fire. "This is a popular trekking spot", Theni district official S. Kandasamy told AFP.
O Panneerselvam at the Theni govt hospital to meet those injured in the fire.
A defence press note said 16 Garud commandos were in action since the morning.
It roughly takes about four to five hours to complete the trek from Kurangani village, which is at the foothill, to reach the Top Station, whereas two-and-a-half hours are enough for the return trip, it says.