China has had 4,587 forest fires that killed or injured 95 people nationwide, following severe winter weather that created large amounts of flammable debris and damaged fire prevention facilities, a senior forestry official said on Wednesday.
The fires were those reported as of Monday.
The many trees toppled in the storms that affected much of the nation left "hidden trouble" that could lead to devastating forest fires, said Lei Jiafu, deputy minister of the State Forestry Administration (SFA).
Lei added that the situation could worsen as the weather got warmer.
Fire inspection and control infrastructure was damaged by the storms, Lei said, such as monitoring towers that were toppled and insulation that was covered by branches. Lack of fire-fighting and prevention knowledge had resulted in mass casualties.
Lei warned of further fires during the traditional Qingming Festival in early April, which is marked by people burning paper items in mountainous regions to honor the deceased.
Another risk was that many people had gone into the forests to clear the debris and replant, which itself increased the risk of fire.
(Xinhua News Agency March 26, 2008)