Our sincere condolences go out to the families of the victims who lost their lives in the forest fire during our Woman’s Day trek at Kurangani, Theni district. Our experienced trek organisers Nisha and Dhivya, supported by Arun and Vibin, two of our experienced organisers took out a 27 member group for a 2-day trek along with a local guide. We came to know that on Saturday, March 10th the group started off from Kurangani at the base 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.
On Sunday morning the group started their descent back towards the exit through the same trail they went up by and reached close to mid-point of the exit. 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 (Source: Tamilnadu Weatherman), 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.
Some of the survivors told 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. 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 recent Kurangani trek was organized as a women’s trek to commemorate women’s day.
Arun and Vibin are experienced trekkers who have been trekking across the country for over 7 years. They have competed and won trekking events in other parts of the country. Trained in survival skills themselves, it is hard to accept that they lost their lives in this unfortunate incident. Knowing these experienced trek organizers, we believe they have fought till death to save as many lives as possible. We also came to know that Dhivya Muthukumaran, one of the participants, rescued 3 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.
We would like to assure all concerned that this is a natural disaster and our experienced trek organizers paid with their lives to stand up for the team. We mourn the death of every CTC and non CTC person struck by this tragedy. And we pray for the speedy recovery for those undergoing medical treatment.