Huge forest fire in China

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People's Republic of China

Eighteen firefighters and one forestry guide have died while fighting a huge forest fire in south-western China.

State television footage showed flames shooting into the sky from the mountains above the city of Xichang in Sichuan province, turning the sky orange. Heavy clouds of smoke billowed above the buildings and roads of the city, which has a population of about 700,000.

The blaze started at about 3pm local time on Monday, “directly threatening the safety of Xichang city”, the city government said in a Weibo statement on Tuesday morning.

More than 140 fire engines, four helicopters and nearly 900 firefighters were sent to tackle the blaze, according to local officials. More than 2,000 emergency workers were involved in rescue efforts and more than 1,200 residents had been evacuated.

Helicopters were still battling the blaze on Tuesday morning.

Several forest fires have broken out in the prefecture in recent days, according to the state news agency, Xinhua.

Last April, 27 firefighters were killed in a forest fire in Muli County in the same prefecture. Authorities deployed 700 firefighters to the scene.