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Dry Weather Leaves Hunan on High Alert for Forest Fires

Hunan Province in central China is on high alert for forest fires, which have killed 22 people and injured 13 others so far this year.

The deaths were caused by 13 fires and the injured were all in stable condition, according to the provincial forest fire control headquarters.

The headquarters warned on Monday that the province faced an unprecedented risk of forest fires due to dry weather and large amounts of combustible material, such as broken tree branches, a legacy of the snow disaster a month ago.

"The broken tree branches and the heating and lighting facilities left by the snow disaster relief teams in the forest have become very dangerous now and should be cleared as soon as possible," Xu Minghua, Hunan's vice governor, said during a tele-conference.

Hunan has experienced more than 1,500 forest fires in 89 counties since February 6 with more than 10,000 hectares of forest burned. In one fire in Jiangyong County on Sunday alone, five people were killed and one injured after local villagers burned shrubs and stumps for a forestation.

More than 200,000 people have taken part in fighting against the fires. Xu ordered all members of the county government to establish task forces for forest fire control and strengthen monitoring and patrols in the fire-prone areas.

Counties were also told to improve public awareness of forest fire control.

(Xinhua News Agency March 4, 2008)

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