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When Victims Could Not be Distinguished From Rocks in Theni Forest Fire

When Jagadish spoke to one of the victims to know their location, all he could hear were cries for help saying that there were people all around, but badly burnt.

Revathi Rajeevan | CNN-News18

Updated:March 13, 2018, 7:13 PM IST
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When Victims Could Not be Distinguished From Rocks in Theni Forest Fire
Thirty six trekkers were trapped in the forest fire in Bodi hills in Theni on Sunday, 10 of whom were rescued and discharged from hospitals later. (Photo: CNN-News18)
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Madurai: "Helicopters, sir. Please send helicopters with lots of water." This was a frantic call from one of the victims of the Theni forest fire on Sunday. When help first reached them, several of them were charred beyond recognition.

"They must have jumped in between the rocks and tried hiding under them when they saw the fire but they were burnt along with the rocks. So much so that we couldn't differentiate between the victims and the rocks. Both were burnt fully," says S Jagadish, an ambulance driver, who first reached the spot for rescue after the forest fire trapped 36 trekkers in Theni district of Tamil Nadu on Sunday.

When Jagadish spoke to one of the victims to know their location, all he could hear were cries for help saying that there were people all around, but badly burnt.

"The location was about 35 kms from where I was. First 15 kms had good roads. Beyond that were hills and after a point we couldn't take the vehicle and our mobile phones lost signal. We had to make calls from a local landline phone, find the location and headed their way with a few locals and some medicines," says Jagadish.

Meanwhile, Jagadish requested for rescue teams to be sent from Theni.

It was around 3 pm on Sunday when the 108 control room received the distress call.

"We receive so many hoax calls. Sometimes they say their village is burning and when we get there, there wouldn't be anything. We could not believe initially when we heard more than 30 people got stuck in the forest fire. It was shocking. The caller was asking for helicopters and water to be sent," says Kumaran, district manager, 108 services.

In a series of videos that have emerged, Jagadish is heard narrating what he sees as he climbs up, panting.

He had recorded his every move as he climbed up, to be sent as information to officials below. There are videos of the forest fire that was consuming the hill he was standing on as he walks further to the top to spot any trekkers, who were burnt beyond recognition. They were crying for help as he is heard consoling them, assuring them that everything will be fine.

The videos were then sent to the district administration to make sense of the situation.

"They cried saying they were burnt, their throats are burnt, they need water. We had no idea how many were there exactly. Some had been rescued by their guides and were taken to the foot of the hill. The rest were scattered… Since the choppers couldn't land at some places and airlift everyone, we carried them down in bedsheets after providing them first aid," recalls Jagadish, who has been driving a 108 ambulance for the last four years.

On Tuesday, the death toll rose to eleven. Thirty six trekkers were trapped in the forest fire in Bodi hills in Theni on Sunday, 10 of whom were rescued and discharged from hospitals later. Fifteen are currently undergoing treatment in different hospitals across the state with forty to ninety percent burn injuries.
| Edited by: Bijaya Das
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