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  Forest fire in northern China raging out of control
  Agence France Presse

August 8, 2002 Thursday



Nearly 5,000 people were struggling Thursday to control forest fires raging across a large swathe of northeastern China but with little immediate success, state media said.


Eight fires in the Greater Hinggan Mountains in Inner Mongolia province, sparked by lightning strikes, have been burning since late last month, the official Xinhua news agency said.


So far, firefighters have been able to bring only one blaze under control and the others were still spreading Thursday. The same region was devastated by massive forest fires just 15 years ago.


Teams have tried to extinguish the fires through rain prompted by shooting chemicals into clouds, but without success because of unfavorable weather conditions, Xinhua said.


About 3,600 firefighters and 1,200 forest policemen and other forestry staff were battling the blaze, with more firefighters being mobilized, Xinhua quoted local sources as saying.


Additional firefighting equipment, such as water guns and water bags, are in urgent need to control the fires, local sources said.


Prolonged high temperatures have undermined fire control efforts, and the fact that the fires started in areas far from roads also made it hard to fight them.


The blazes, however, are now quickly spreading towards roads, threatening to make them inaccessible to firefighters and equipment trying to get through.

  Firefighters were meanwhile using aircraft, but the area has few suitable planes.

"The State Forestry Administration has dispatched four helicopters to the forest area to cope with the emergency as local authorities and forest police are putting on more staff to tackle the emergency," Xinhua said.

  No casualties have been reported so far.

A huge forest fire raged in the Greater Hinggan Mountains in 1987, leading to losses of thousands of millions of yuan (hundreds of millions of dollars) and attracting worldwide attention.

  State media reports did not say how much area the current fires covered.
  The Greater Hinggan Mountains area is mostly virgin forests, and is one of China's biggest forest regions.


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