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Casualties from Forest Fires Drop Sharply
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Forest fires killed 41 people and injured 62 in China last year, the State Forestry Administration reported on Wednesday.

According to Cao Qingyao, spokesman for the administration, the number of casualties was down 82.4 percent on the average level over previous years. However, no direct comparison with last year's figure was made available.

A total of 407,624 hectares of forest was damaged by 7,946 fires, with both figures down by nearly 40 percent on the average figures of previous years, Cao revealed.

Statistics regarding economic losses were not disclosed.

Most of the forest fires occurred between March and May, when a daily average of more than 100 sites suffered from some form of fire, Cao said.

The forestry administration reported in September that China had suffered 7,002 forest fires in the first eight months of the year, leaving 33 people dead, 73 injured and 380,000 hectares of forest damaged.

We spent 142 million yuan (US$17.75 million) on fire prevention and fire-fighting last year, and more than 20 million yuan worth of supplies were allocated, said Cao.

"Fire fighters were faced with unprecedented challenges due to difficult access to forest fire sites and atrocious weather," said Cao.

Apart from forested areas in the northeast and southwest, which are prone to blazes, several famous scenic spots in north China, including the Fragrant Hills in the suburbs of Beijing, were also hit by forest fires, said Cao.

Lightening strikes sparked off a blaze in China's largest virgin camphor pine area in Hulun Buir City of Inner Mongolia in mid-May, with 8,300 hectares of camphor pines engulfed in flames.

In the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, fires raged for more than ten days at the Kanduhe Forest Farm in Greater Hinggan Mountains and in Galashan area of Heihe City near Russia.

More than 33,000 people were called on to fight the three major fires, according to the state fire-fighting headquarters.

The affected regions, which extend deep into China's largest virgin forest in the Greater Hinggan Mountains, suffered from extremely arid weather in May, with rainfall down 80 percent on the same period of 2005.

(Xinhua News Agency January 11, 2007)

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