The picture has been used for illustrative purposes. Reuters
BEIJING: At least 26 firefighters died after hundreds were sent to tackle a forest blaze in remote mountains in southwest China's Sichuan province at the weekend, authorities said Monday.
Nearly 700 firefighters were deployed to battle the fire, which broke out on Saturday on steep terrain at an altitude of around 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) in Muli County, according to the ministry of emergency management.
Authorities lost contact with 30 firefighters on Sunday afternoon after a sudden change in wind direction ignited a "huge fireball", the ministry said in a statement.
Rescuers have found 26 bodies and are looking for the other missing crew.
President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang delivered instructions to respond to the emergency, the statement said.
A separate forest fire that lasted two days in the northern province of Shanxi was brought under control on Sunday, the official Xinhua news agency said.
More than 9,000 people were evacuated from their homes due to that blaze, which did not cause any casualties.
In May 1987, the deadliest forest fire in recent Chinese history killed 119 in northeast Heilongjiang province, injuring 102 and leaving 51,000 homeless.
Tens of thousands of people defied authorities to march through the streets of the financial hub in an unsanctioned rally on Sunday. But it descended into violence outside the city government's offices in the late afternoon as police battled small groups of radical protesters.
The fire broke out in a single-story wooden building rented by an unnamed Chinese company and used as a dormitory for the sawmill workers, local authorities said. Firefighters battled the blaze for more than two hours.
The night's "extreme violence" justified the use of the emergency law, Beijing-backed Lam said in a television address on Saturday.
State television footage showed large flames shooting into the sky from the mountains above the city of Xichang in Sichuan province, turning the sky orange. Heavy clouds of smoke billowed above the buildings and roads of the city, which has a population of some 700,000 people.
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