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New Devices Forecast Lightning to Prevent Forest Fires

The Chinese government will install a series of monitoring devices in the Greater Khingan Mountains, northeast China, to forecast electrical storms over 100,000 square kilometers of forest.

The forest, which stretches across the country's northernmost Heilongjiang Province and the neighboring Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, is a major green belt in northern China, but it is vulnerable to forest fires, which occur nearly every year.

Experts say approximately 70 percent of the fires are caused by lightning, as the area is rarely frequented by people.

The China Meteorological Administration has earmarked 12 million yuan (about US$1.45 million) this year to install eight meteorological centers and 15 lightning positioning stations to provide timely and accurate weather forecasts.

The new stations would be linked to the existing satellite remote sensing surveillance systems to forecast the time and location of thunder storms, as well as the fire probability rate, wind and soil conditions in the area, said Wang Huishan, an official with the Heilongjiang Provincial Meteorological Bureau.

"The information will be transmitted first to the data processing centers based in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Heilongjiang Province, which will correlate it to data from the remote sensing system to decide whether to sound a fire warning," he said.

The new monitoring system had passed a feasibility study by the China Meteorological Administration, and the State Forestry Administration and will be installed for trial operations by the end of the year, said Wang.

(Xinhua News Agency February 23, 2004)

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