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Fire in Largest Virgin Forest Brought Under Control

Firefighters in the Nyingchi Prefecture of Tibet Autonomous Region have brought a blaze in China's largest virgin forest under control after a three-day battle, the local government said on Wednesday.

No casualties were reported.

"If the weather is cooperative and there is no strong wind, the fire is expected to be put out in one or two days," said Zhoigar, a top government official in this southeastern prefecture.

An investigation is underway to determine the damage and cause of the blaze in the forest that covers more than 53,900 square kilometers.

The fire, which broke out on Sunday near a highway, has left a four kilometer burnt streak in the mountains.

"We are still on high alert as the trees in the forest are mainly Chinese pine, which are very prone to being ignited," Zhoigar said.

The local government evacuated more than 300 people from a village at the foot of the mountains threatened by the flames. The village was less than two kilometers away from the fire site.

"The fire close to the village has been completely put out and most of the villagers have come back to their homes," Zhoigar said. "The village survived from the fire and some villagers have now joined us in helping to extinguish the blaze."

More than 6,000 people, including about 2,000 soldiers, are taking part in the fire fight. The local government is carrying out three times the amount of artificial rainfall.

The local observatory forecast the forest area, which saw mainly cloudy weather the past two days, would have sunny days with a mild wind in the next two days.

Nyingchi is about 400 kilometers from Lhasa, the regional capital of Tibet. More than 46 percent of its land area is covered by forest.

Earlier this month, the National Forest Fire Prevention Headquarters warned local governments the country 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.

All-level governments were required to set up special task forces in charge of forest fire control and increase patrols in the fire-prone areas.

(Xinhua News Agency March 6, 2008)

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