27 firefighters die battling forest blaze in Sichuan, China

Chinese soldiers board on a helicopter in Chengdu in China's southwestern Sichuan province on April 1, 2019, as they prepare to rescue firefighters trapped by the forest blaze. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thirty people were confirmed killed while fighting a forest fire that broke out last Saturday (March 30) in the Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in China's Sichuan province, the Ministry of Emergency Management said in a statement on Monday (April 1).

The bodies of the victims were all recovered, including 27 firefighters and three locals, said the ministry, whose website switched to black and white to mourn the tragedy.

At about 5pm last Saturday, a fire broke out in an alpine forest in Muli county. The fire, the cause of which is still unknown, was concentrated at an altitude of about 3,800m, in complex terrain with steep valleys and a lack of road access, the local government said in a statement on Monday.

On Sunday afternoon, 689 firefighters were sent to combat the fire, the ministry said in an earlier statement on Monday.

"A sudden change of wind direction instantly formed a huge fireball and a change of direction. Firefighters at the scene tried to escape the danger, but contact with 30 of them was lost," the statement said.

The ministry immediately launched a search and rescue operation. Mr Huang Ming, party secretary of the ministry, held a video conference with local officials, and a rescue team led by Vice-Minister Fu Jianhua went to the site on Sunday night.

Two army helicopters, carrying a rescue team of 15 along with relief supplies, were sent on Monday morning to the scene, the 77th Group Army said.

Firefighting operations are still under way. The authorities are attempting to identify all the bodies and provide comfort for surviving family members.

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