Wed, May 15, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Taichung forest fire still burning out of control

TINDER-DRY Authorities are hoping for rain to end the fire after strong winds yesterday fanned flames and exacerbated the difficulties faced by firefighters


A helicopter does its best to try and douse the fire outside Taichung, yesterday.


The forest fire in Taichung County remains out of control, and as its heat and intensity increase, the prospects of bringing it under control diminish, according to the government's special reaction committee yesterday, which now places its hopes on rains expected today.

"We have created a 3,500m long fire barrier to prevent the fire from spreading further, while we also expect heavy rain tomorrow, which will help to extinguish the fire," the committee said in a press release.

But the fire, which has been burning for more than 80 hours around Lishan (梨山), Taichung County, an area noted for pear production, yesterday burned through another fire barrier that was made on Sunday.

Strong winds yesterday exacerbated the difficulties faced by fire-fighters and accelerated the spread of the fire, the committee said.

Fears for the safety of an endangered fish species, the Formosan landlocked salmon, were temporarily lessened, however, when the winds caused the fire to spread toward the north-east, away from a preservation center at Sheipa National Park (雪霸國家公園) where the fish are kept.

A total of 1,325 firefighters, including forest firefighters, regular firemen and army troops, have battled the blaze and two helicopters have sprayed 243.9 tonnes of water.

The fire has burned at temperatures as high as 7000C and has destroyed 112 hectares of forest in the four days since it started.

"According to weather forecasters, there was supposed to be rain this afternoon. But the rain, unfortunately, didn't fall where the fire is burning," the committee said in a news release.

The committee also countered Chinese-language media reports that it missed the chance to extinguish the fire when it first broke out by only sending eight firefighters to the scene at 10:40am on Saturday.

"We had sent 94 firefighters to the mountain by 1:30pm and a total of 194 firefighters had been sent by 5pm. It's not true that we misjudged the situation and missed the opportunity to put out the fire," it said.

An investigation into the cause of the fire continues. Some 143 people have been questioned but authorities say they are as yet none the wiser.

Meanwhile, the committee said that it was closely monitoring the quality and temperature of the water in the Chijiawan Stream (七家灣溪), in which the endangered species of fish, the Formosan landlocked salmon, lives.

The stream currently houses about 400 salmon, while the preservation center has 900 artificially inseminated fish.

"I'm worried that even if the salmon are not killed by the fire, they may starve to death if the fire destroys everything," said Gwo Jin-Chywan (郭金泉), a professor at the National Taiwan Ocean University's Department of Aquaculture.

A forest fire in the area on Feb.12 last year raised concerns about the fish's safety.

Fish preservation experts argued that the Council of Agriculture (COA) had failed in its work.

"We had suggested that the COA release artificially inseminated fish from the preservation center into other streams which the salmon used to inhabit, but the COA did nothing," Gwo said.

Members of the special reaction committee, however, said that the advice of experts "had been followed step by step, but we need time to release the 900 fish into other streams around Taiwan."

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