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China sets deadline to contain raging forest fire in Heilongjiang

FIREFIGHTERS are battling to contain wind-whipped fire that has been raging for nearly five days near a virgin forest in the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang.

Local authorities said they expected today's drizzle and artificial rain would help extinguish the flames.

The fire started in Yinanhe Forest Farm on Monday afternoon and quickly spread northeast to Yichun City. It has killed one firefighter and injured four others.

The fire had affected more than 20,000 local residents and ravaged 20,000 hectares of wooded area by yesterday, according to the firefighting headquarters.

People living up to 35 km from the fire front were being evacuated, although the exact number being forced to move was not immediately known.

Fire crews worked overnight yesterday hoping to bring the fire in Yichun under control. But their efforts were hindered by wind gusts of up to 40 km per hour.

"We need to take advantage of the rain, put out the fire tonight and clean up the fire site to prevent invisible sparks from escalating into big flames again tomorrow," said Governor Li Zhanshu, who visited Yichun city today.

Yichun is home to more than 30 percent of the world's total Korean pine virgin forests and also a renowned granite stone-forest national park. Its forests are susceptible to fires every spring and autumn.

In another forest fire that burned through an oasis in the deserts of Aksu Prefecture of the northwestern Xinjiang Ugyur Autonomous Region last night, more than 20 centuries-old trees were killed.

Border police officers in Aksu said the fire started on grass at 11 p.m. and soon spread to the woods, with winds sweeping at 38km per hour. The flames were put out at 4 am today and no casualties were reported.


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