Helicopter unit to be set up to fight forest fires

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 January, 2007, 12:00am

China's first fire-fighting helicopter squadron will be formed this year to combat forest blazes amid forecasts it will be the hottest 12 months on record.

State Forestry Administration spokesman Cao Qingyao yesterday said the helicopters would be used mainly for surveillance and transport.

'Many fires start at inaccessible spots. Very often, what begins as a fire develops into a disaster simply because we can't deliver enough manpower and equipment in time,' Mr Cao said. 'We are still working on the number of helicopters we need. What I can say is that it will be a hefty investment by the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Finance this year.'

About 8,000 fires broke out in mainland forests last year, destroying 407,624 hectares and killing 41 people.

Mr Cao said the central government was basing its decision-making on international forecasts that this year would be the hottest on record. 'The rising temperature may not only trigger more fires, but also create a warmer environment in which tree-eating pests may thrive,' he said.

But Mr Cao said humans posed a bigger threat than nature. He said 98 per cent of forest fire losses were due to 'human faults' and the mainland had not fully implemented punishments or developed community awareness about the issue.

'If governors, mayors and county chiefs took the issue seriously enough, people wouldn't have to suffer such high losses.'