More than 3,000 Tibetans evacuated as wildfire rages in Sichuan province

The fire in Nyagchu county has burned down homes and injured animals.
By Pelbar and Lhuboom for RFA Tibetan
2024.03.18
More than 3,000 Tibetans evacuated as wildfire rages in Sichuan province A wildfire approaches a monastery in Nyagchu county, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, of southwestern China’s Sichuan province, March 17, 2024.
Image from citizen journalist video

More than 3,300 people have been evacuated as a wildfire spreads through a Tibetan-populated county in China’s Sichuan province, Chinese state media and three people with knowledge of the situation said Monday.

The fire, which began on the evening of March 15 on the slopes of a mountain near Petse village, forced Tibetans from about a dozen villages in three areas of Nyagchu county, or Yajiang in Chinese, to leave their homes.

The county lies in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the traditional Kham region of eastern Tibet. Tibetans made up the majority of the county’s total population of over 51,000, according to 2020 census data. 

The cause of the fire, which quickly spread to multiple mountain ridges due to strong winds on March 16, is still unknown, sources told Radio Free Asia. 

One of three main sections of the fire has been extinguished, China Daily reported Monday.  

But more than 11 Tibetan villages at the foot of the mountains are still in danger as the wildfire continues to spread rapidly across the area covered mostly by pine trees, while residents are being evacuated, said the first source from inside Tibet. 

Although the fire burned down several houses in nearby communities and harmed animals on the mountains, no human casualties have been reported, said two sources inside the country and a third from the exile community with knowledge of the situation.

Firefighters arrived at the scene on Sunday, said the first source from inside Tibet. That same day, the Ministry of Emergency Management declared a Level-4 emergency response.  

Firefighters dispatched

Chinese state media reported that more than 1,200 firefighters and eight helicopters had been dispatched to fight the fire, with a reinforcement of 750 more firefighters expected from neighboring Yunnan province, according to Chinese media. 

The Jamyang Choekhorling Monastery, founded by popular Tibetan religious leader and activist Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, as well as the Pamo Monastery near Paomo Mountain, are located close to an area where the fire is spreading rapidly, the sources said.

The fire also has burned to the ground about 30 houses in the nearby villages, said the second source from inside Tibet. 

“The fire is spreading very fast because of the direction of the wind,” he told RFA. “If we put it out in one area, it starts in another.”

Firefighters, local Chinese authorities and Tibetan residents are all working to stem the spread of the fire and to ensure minimum damage to homes, monasteries and animals, he added.  

Chinese authorities have warned Tibetans not to share photos or videos of the fire on social media platforms or with contacts abroad, or face arrest, said the first source from inside Tibet. 

State media reported that authorities temporarily closed a highway passing through the region and that communication with a hydroelectric station has been interrupted. 

Written by Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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