Charred bodies of 9 hikers found in woods after horrifying forest fire

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Speaking to reporters, Palaniswami said the trekking expedition had been done without getting the necessary permission from the Forest Department. Media reports and police said the groups comprised of students as well as employees of a company in the state capital Chennai.

The ban was issued as directed by the Chief Secretary after several people, including men, women and child, of a 37-member group died due to burn injuries. Thereafter the Theni district management team, including police and forest officials pressed into action. "They were caught in the forest fire when they were returning downhill on Sunday afternoon", said Theni district collector Mariam Pallavi Baldev.

During the summer months of March, April and May permission to trek is not given as the high forest ranges are dry with the possibility of forest fires spreading fast, he had said in Salem. The blaze left faces of a few women trekkers disfigured, making identification a challenge for the health department, he added.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, officials said the forest department had suspended Jaisingh, the officer on duty when the incident occurred.

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.

He said that the forest department had been alerted about the fire in the morning through a system operated by the Forest Survey of India, Dehradun. Even, the defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, "Ten commandos will move to Madurai by a helicopter from Sulur Air Force base and trek to the spot in the night". Eight commandos had already reached the top and had started dousing the fire, it said.

The choppers then airlifted the bodies to a temporary helipad erected in the playground of a private college, following which these were taken to the Theni Medical College Hospital for post-mortem.

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