800 flee forest fire; two die of heatstroke as China gripped by 40C temperatures

Temperatures climb past 40 degrees Celsius with Beijing raising red alert

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 3:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 7:23pm

More than 800 people fled to emergency shelters today as a forest fire raged near the coastal city of Weihai in Shandong province.

The fire stretched as long as seven kilometres after breaking out in the woods northwest of downtown at about 3pm yesterday, razing through the Xianguding national park with many tourist attractions.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but heat waves in many parts of China were considered a factor in the conflagration. Shandong hoisted an orange weather alert in the past few days as temperatures in some areas reached 41 degrees Celsius.

More than 2,000 firefighters were mobilised and helicopters were deployed to stem the blaze, which was fanned by strong winds and ate through dry leaves and grass.

The Weihai city government said that by 6.40am today, the fire had been largely controlled, with only a few areas till in flames.

All kindergartens were shut down in Wehai, on the eastern tip of Shandong, as authorities urged children to stay at home.

Residents in densely populated areas nearby panicked as thick smoke blanketed the air.

Emergency shelters that could each accommodate 2,000 residents were set up in sports stadiums and high schools. Food and water were distributed among the evacuees.

Public servants and state-run firms’ employees were required to report to various government headquarters, where they were given water buckets and brooms (which can be used to pound small flames) and shuttled to fire zones where they could assist the firemen.

The forest blaze came as two people died of heatstroke in Yuanyang county in Yunnan province, where the temperature has for weeks risen above 40 degrees Celsius. There was mild relief yesterday with the mercury dropping to the low 30s.

The victims, both in their 50s, died in hospital on Tuesday from heatstroke, the Kunming-based Metropolitan Times reported.

In Hong Kong, a policeman died while jogging on Tuesday on the hottest day of the year so far in the city. The 45-year-old constable’s collapse came less than an hour before the Hong Kong Observatory issued a “very hot” weather warning that afternoon.

A colleague who was jogging with him at Sai Kung Tang Shiu Kin Sports Ground on Fuk Man Road brought him to hospital.

In Beijing, authorities raised the hot weather alert to red, the highest in the four-level scale. The mercury climbed to 34 degrees in the capital yesterday, after hitting 36.9 degrees on Wednesday - the hottest day in May since May 14, 1968, when temperatures hit 38.3 degrees.

Since Monday temperatures have been climbing across the northern mainland, including in Hebei , Shandong , Henan and Anhui .

The hot weather was expected to persist today, with the National Meteorological Centre predicting temperatures of up to 39 degrees.

Residents were advised to reduce outdoor activities until the heatwave subsided at the weekend.

The Shijiazhuang city government said they had ordered factories and businesses to suspend outdoor work from 10am to 3pm, according to the Legal Evening News.

Educational authorities had not reached a consensus on whether schools should cancel classes but their cafeterias were required to serve green bean soup, which is thought to prevent heatstroke.

Guangdong provincial government reminded employers that they were obliged to pay 150 yuan per month (HK$188) to each employee, from June to October, as compensation for the high temperatures.

The hot weather comes after floods beginning last week left at least 37 people dead on the mainland, according to state media. Almost half a million people were forced from their homes in the south of the country.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, Agence France-Presse