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In another tweet around 7 pm, Sitharaman said she spoke to the Theni District Collector who informed her that 10-15 students were making their way to the foothills.

The fire situation looked very serious but could be controlled, an official told PTI on condition of anonymity. Tamil Nadu forest minsiter, Dindigul C Sreenivasan, and senior officials from the forest department have been rushed to the spot.

Lack of light has slowed down rescue works. Another IAF chopper is on stand by as the search and rescue operations continue. "Operation continues", Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharman said.

Theni district administration sought the help of the Indian Air Force at Sulur in Coimbatore district for the safe evacuation of students.

Of the two trekkers group, one was of 13 people hailing from Tirupur and Erode, and another group of 24 people were from Chennai. Some of them had their dresses in tatters and burnt.

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The website further said on trekking that 'Explore the Unexplored! They had gone trekking without informing anyone and only after the fire spread the Forest Department received distress calls for help. The sudden spread of fire trapped them. Police sources in Theni said that as many as eight students rescued have been admitted to the government hospital in Bodinayakkanur.

Deputy CM O Paneerselvam visits those rescued from the fire. The fire broke out in the Kurangini hills in Theni district, when a group of 25 women and three children was returning from a trek organised by the Chennai Trekking Club to mark Women's Day.

According to reports reaching Chennai, 20 students trapped in the fire have been rescued by a team of forest officials who reached the spot on hearing the news.

"As of now I have not got any information on deaths". 15 members have suffered burns, said Baldev. Fire and ambulance are on standby. "Central government was requested to provide helicopters for rescue work", he said. Her husband works in London. Fire service personnel reached the forest armed with ropes, searchlights and other equipment to climb the hills.