Fire prevention experts urge more professional training after deadly disaster
A deadly forest fire in Southwest China that claimed the lives of 30 people has been contained and authorities are seeking to honor the victims as martyrs.
Five helicopters and nearly 700 people were deployed to tackle the wildfire, which was completely contained as of midday Tuesday, an official surnamed Hou at China's Ministry of Emergency Management's press office, told the Global Times.
The fire broke out at around 6 pm on Saturday in a remote high-altitude forested area in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Southwest China's Sichuan Province. An investigation has been launched to look into the cause, officials from Liangshan said at a press conference on Tuesday.
"Due to the complex terrain, there are still areas that are burning, so it will be some time before it is fully extinguished," Hou said.
The fire claimed the lives of 27 firefighters, with an average age of 23 and the youngest being just 18. Three local officials were also killed when the winds suddenly changed direction, fanning the flames and trapping the firefighters.
The bodies of 29 of the victims were transferred to a funeral parlor in Xichang, Liangshan, and one person was buried in his hometown according to the family's wishes.
More than 10,000 people in Xichang lined the streets and some placed chrysanthemums, heart-shaped candles and white scarves on the road in tribute to the heroes.
Respect for the heroes
China's Ministry of Emergency Management and Liangshan government have turned their websites into black and white to mourn those who died.
Chinese internet users have paid their respects to those who lost their lives. Posts on social media from the firefighters have been widely shared on China's Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo.
Zhang Hao, a 28-year-old firefighter who died in the blaze had only recently married. Posts on his WeChat moments are concerned with his daily rescue work.
Another firefighter, 29-year-old Jiang Feifei, said in his last WeChat post: "I am on the way [to fight a fire] again, please give me some encouragement."
Those words have touched the hearts of numerous netizens. As of press time, a topic titled "last WeChat post shared by firefighters" has received over 620 million hits and more than 280,000 comments.
"I would like to extend my deep respect to firefighters who have to dance with death when disasters come. They always devote themselves wholeheartedly to save others without considering their own well-being," one netizen said.
"Those 30 names deserve to be remembered as they sacrificed their lives to prevent a bigger disaster from happening. I truly hope their relatives will be taken care of and they will rest in peace," wrote a netizen.
Some also cautioned that personal information about the deceased firefighters should be kept private. A man who insulted the 30 victims on a Sina Weibo account was detained on Tuesday.
Worth the loss?
Net users also asked why the death toll of the firefighters was so high, and whether it was worth the loss of life to try to contain a fire in such a remote, rugged region.
"There was a sudden fireball in the dangerous landscape of the forest, and coupled with the windy weather, this was why there were so many casualties," Bai Ye, a Beijing-based forestry fire prevention expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
The fire broke out at a remote spot in the mountains of Liangshan at an altitude of around 3,800 meters, and it spread to cliff areas later, the Sichuan Daily reported.
If the fire was not contained and allowed to spread, more forest would be destroyed, jeopardizing rare ecological species which would threaten the country's resources and ecological security, Wang Hongwei, a professor at China's Renmin University's School of Public Administration and Policy, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Wang also noted the high-risk hazards forest firefighters face, including burns, choking, falling from cliffs and insect bites.
In China, firefighting departments are equipped with helicopters and "firefighting tanks" to minimize casualties, Wang said.
"Part of the problem is that a lot of experienced firefighters have retired, and the new crop doesn't have much practical experience. But China is developing more professional firefighters and training schools," Bai said.
China's first fire rescue college was opened in December 2018 in Beijing under the administration of China's Ministry of Emergency Management.
The ministry also announced in January to recruit 18,665 firefighters, including 11,880 people to the fire and rescue team and 6,785 people to the forest firefighter team.
Analyst said that fire risk is extremely severe at present due to rising temperatures, high winds and dry weather in spring. There has been a spate of fires in the first months of the year in Sichuan and other provinces.
In Sichuan alone, there have been 59 fires this year, 21 of those in Liangshan, the Sichuan Daily reported in March.
China's emergency management, forestry and metrological authorities issued the first red alert for forest fires this year on Monday, noting hazards from a lack of rain, severe dry weather and windy days.