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One group of 25 women and three children had come on a trek organized by the Chennai Trekking Club. They were on their way back when they were caught in the fire.
Officials said another group of student trekkers hadn't taken permission from police or the forest department.
Locals were the first to come to the rescue of the trapped people.
Many jump on rocks below to escape, injured
Many trekkers tried to escape the blaze by jumping on boulders below. NDTV reported about a video of the trapped people taken from the hills. Disturbing visuals showed women lying face down on rocks and grass, unable to move, indicating severe injuries.
Rescue and relief are underway "on a war footing," said CM K Palaniswami. Teams of police, forest personnel and fire department as well as ambulances have been rushed to the spot.
IAF choppers, including an MI-17 from Sulur, were brought in for aerial survey and rescue.
Those injured, many of whom are critical, have been transferred to nearby hospitals in the area.