Authorities have renewed efforts to ban logging in northeastern China as a huge fire engulfs one of the nation's largest natural forests. Xinhua said yesterday that China had revoked its original plan to set up three forestry bureaus to fell trees in a 946,000-hectare forest in the northern part of the Greater Hinggan Mountains area. Instead, the authorities had set up a forestry management bureau to protect the area. Running north to south through Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang, the Greater Hinggan Mountains area is the largest area of virgin forest in the country. The news report did not give details of the ban, and officials at the State Forestry Administration could not be reached for comment yesterday. The logging ban was not the first attempt by officials to protect the forest. In 1999 and 2000, the Ministry of Forestry launched protection campaigns and annual timber cutting in the Greater Hinggan Mountains area had already been reduced from 14.5 million to 8.76 million cubic metres. Another Xinhua report said a huge fire that started on May 5 was devouring the area, although the blaze had largely been contained. The fire spread rapidly due to strong winds and dry weather. More than 4,000 armed police officers were deployed to put out the flames. Such large-scale fires are not unusual in summer. Last August, another huge fire in the same area burned for 23 days before 16,000 firefighters put out the flames. State media said the fire was started by thunderstorms. Fires in the area are hard to control because of the high temperature in summer and the lack of water sources, said Xinhua. Heavy logging has taken a toll on the forests in northeastern China. After the Communist Party took over the country in 1949, more than 100 forestry enterprises were set up in the area to bolster the nation's economic output. More than 100 million cubic metres of timber, or a tenth of the nation's total timber output, have been felled since 1965. But despite officials' acknowledgment that excessive logging has caused serious damage to the ecological environment, the recent forest protection campaigns failed to stop the rampant logging. Residents in the Greater Hinggan Mountains area continue to cut trees for firewood because they cannot afford to buy coal, according to state media reports.