Three killed in Yunnan wildfire

A mountain fire that broke out in Lincang city, Yunnan province on Saturday 16 March killed three people and left another injured, CCTV reported.

The fire started at 6pm and scorched about 5 hectares. By 11pm, it had been brought under control by 110 people. The next day it reignited before being finally extinguished.

The fire’s cause remains unclear, a local villager told Caixin. She said the director of the local forestry station had led a team to create a buffer zone by clearing trees on the mountain. At around 8pm, as several people were preparing to evacuate, the wind changed direction and the fire engulfed them.

The villager said the local area had experienced several months of drought, making the land exceptionally dry. This was the year’s first fire of such magnitude, she added.

Several wildfires have affected south-western China over the past week. 

On 15 March, in neighbouring Sichuan province, one burned across forested mountains in Yajiang county. Local authorities said 1,935 people were involved in rescue efforts, and eight helicopters had been deployed to assist in firefighting. As of 17 March, 3,396 individuals had been safely evacuated and the fire had caused no casualties, they said. 

Decreased rainfall and warmer temperatures due to climate change increase the risk and severity of forest fires, explains Greenpeace. Rising temperatures and droughts also mean Yunnan, known for its rich biodiversity, faces rising plant deaths and disruptions to wildlife-migration patterns, Greenpeace adds. 

Globally, a 2022 report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) predicted a 50% increase in extreme fires by the end of the 21st century, driven by climate and land-use change.

“We have to minimize the risk of extreme wildfires by being better prepared: invest more in fire risk reduction, work with local communities, and strengthen global commitment to fight climate change”, Inger Andersen, UNEP executive director, said at the time.

Read China Dialogue’s analysis on improving China’s extreme-weather response.