Tirupati, March 19 :
The Indian Air Force is sending four helicopters and the army 100 personnel to battle a massive fire in the Seshachalam forests that is threatening the famous Balaji temple atop the Tirumala Hills, officials said Wednesday.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Secretary P.K. Mohanty said the director general of forests and the director general of fire services will also be rushing to Tirumala from Delhi Thursday.
Mohanty spoke to the union cabinet secretary and secretaries of defence and forest and environment to brief them of the situation and seek help from the centre.
Earlier, Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan said two C130 aircraft – which have expertise in chemical spraying to put off fire – will arrive Wednesday night.
An official statement said the governor has alerted the chief of air staff, naval authorities and other heads of armed forces.
The governor said he was personally monitoring the situation and hoped that the fire would soon be brought under control. He said there was no need for panic.
Earlier, officials of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which manages the affairs of the temple, said they were trying to deploy helicopters to control the fire which has already destroyed forests spread over thousands of hectares.
As thick smoke enveloped the hills, shops around the temple were shut and the pathway to the temple for devotees was closed.
TTD officials said they were taking all steps for the safety of devotees. As a precautionary measure, the pedestrian pathway from Alipiri was closed down.
TTD executive officer M.G. Gopal said the fire at Kakula Konda had not yet come under control. Personnel from fire services, forest, police and various wings of the TTD were trying to control the fire that broke out near the sandalwood plantation, about three km from the temple.
TTD officials were in touch with the chief secretary and officials in disaster management and fire service departments.
The fire has also threatened a wind power plant located in the forest.