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UPDATED: December 6, 2010
Southwest China Wildfire Claims 22 Lives

A spreading grassland fire in a mountainous Tibetan region in southwest China proved deadly when it trapped soldiers and local residents trying to put out the blaze. By Sunday night, at least 22 have been killed and three severely burned, local officials said.

The wild fire was raging through a grassland atop a plateau some six kilometers from the county government seat in Daofu County, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze, Sichuan Province. About 500 mu (33.3 hectares) of the grassland has burned, while 200 mu (13 hectares) is still on fire, a source with local fire-fighters told Xinhua.

"The fire line stretches several kilometers long. As it darkens at night, most fire-fighters have retreated to the camps." Yang Hao, a senior local fire-fighting official told reporters. "However, we are still closely monitoring the situation."

About 2,000 people have joined the fire-fighting efforts. Sichuan Governor Jiang Jufeng led a work-team to Daofu, some 580 kilometers from provincial capital Chengdu, late Sunday night. An emergency medical team is also the en route to Daofu from Chengdu.

Local officials said the grassland fire broke out at noon on Sunday and was brought under control at about 3 p.m. However, gusting winds boosted the flames and trapped people fighting the fire.

Of the 22 fatalities, 15 were soldiers, two were workers with the grassland administration while five others were local civilians, officials said. Three of the severely injured have been rushed to hospitals.

Gusting winds ebbed anew late Sunday night, providing favorable conditions to put out the flames, fire-fighters said.

Governor Jiang ordered local officials to strengthen fire monitoring efforts and try the best to avoid additional casualties.

He also ordered a thorough probe into the cause of the fire.

Daofu sits in a forest-covered area at the eastern edge of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. It has a population of 45,000, about 89 percent of whom are ethnic Tibetans.

A string of deadly fires hit China in recent weeks as most parts of the country brace for an especially dry winter.

In the latest tragedy, 58 people were killed in a Shanghai high-rise fire on November 15. Among the 71 others who were injured, more than 30 remain in hospitals, including 11 in serious conditions, doctors said.

(Xinhua News Agency December 5, 2010)

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