Forest fire rages out of control in mountains

The China Post staff

Fire fighters yesterday failed to put out a ferocious blaze that started Saturday and has engulfed at least 100 hectares of forecast and threatens the habitat of an endangered salmon species. Dry weather with strong winds, and high altitude of the fire, only made more difficult the work of the 200-some fire fighters working around the clock in Hsuehpa National Park in central Taiwan.

Many had expected the air fire fighting crew, scheduled to be commissioned by the end of this year, would be of some help. But the crew said its two helicopters are still undergoing final examination and its crew members under training, thus were unable to help this time. Instead, the air police unit has dispatched two helicopters to provide assistance needed.

The escalating fire was said to have devoured at least 100 hectares of forest, in which most of the trees are more than 20 years old, and threatened the habitat of an endangered salmon species, officials said yesterday. A total of 380 fire fighters had been called in. Fan Chen-tsung, head of the Council of Agriculture and head of the ad hoc emergency taskforce, had to ask the military to mobilize at least 400 soldiers for the purpose.

The taskforce comprised of representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Transportation and Communications, Government Information Office.

Vice Premier Lin Hsin-yi yesterday attended a taskforce meeting, at which a briefing was presented.

Police questioned a farmer whose farm is the suspected starting point of the fire. The fire fighting control center said it has no idea when it would be put under control. The blaze, made worse by one of the worst droughts to hit the island in years, is near the salmon sanctuary.

The rare fish inhabits cold and clean high mountain streams.