BEIJING: Eighteen firefighters and one forestry guide died while fighting a huge forest fire in southwestern China, the local government said on Tuesday (Mar 31).
State television footage showed large 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 some 700,000 people.
The blaze started near Xichang in the southwestern province's mountainous Liangshan prefecture at 3pm (0700 GMT) on Monday, "directly threatening the safety of Xichang city", the city government said in a Weibo statement on Tuesday morning.
Major facilities, including a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage station, two gasoline stations, four schools and the city’s largest department store, are under threat, it said.
Around 690,000 people live in the city, which is about 340km southwest of provincial capital Chengdu.
More than 140 fire engines, four helicopters and nearly 900 firefighters have been sent to tackle the blaze, according to local officials.
In total over two thousand emergency workers are involved in rescue efforts to contain the blaze and more than 1,200 local people have been evacuated.
Helicopters were still battling the blaze Tuesday morning.
Several forest fires have broken out in the same prefecture in recent days, reported state news agency Xinhua.
Last April, twenty-seven firefighters were killed in a huge forest fire in Muli County in the same prefecture. Authorities deployed 700 firefighters to the scene.