Eighteen firefighters and a forest guide died this week battling a wildfire in southwest China that has spread over more than 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres), prompting criticism on social media that the government isn’t doing enough to protect the lives of emergency workers.
The disaster has destroyed more than 80 hectares of forest in Sichuan, the same region where a fire sparked by a thunderstorm a year ago killed 27 firefighters. Government officials say the cause of the current fire is still under investigation, but “abnormal weather conditions” helped the blaze to spread and hampered rescue work. The wildfire spread within an hour over the mountain where it started and threatened the nearby city Xichang, which has a population of over 770,000.
Data from the Meteorological Center in Xichang shows the region experienced a drier, warmer spring than usual, with no rain in more than 20 days. With strong winds and an abundance of “combustible material” in the forest, the combination created ideal conditions for wildfires, said meteorologist Hu Xiao at the China Meteorological Administration. There were at least 56 forest fires in China within a week in late March, according to China’s Ministry of Emergency Management.