Wildfire Threatens Tibetan Monastery, Town

Smoke billows from forest fire in Nyagchuka county, Jan. 25, 2014.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Updated at 11:15 a.m. EST on 2014-01-28

A forest fire burning out of control in western China’s Sichuan province appears set to spread to a monastery and the main town of a Tibetan-populated county, following the near-total destruction of the center of another Tibetan town in a neighboring province two weeks ago, sources say.

The cause of the fire, which began on Jan. 25 in a hilly area of Nyagchukha (in Chinese, Yajiang) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, is still unknown, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Sunday.

“But the fire was still burning on Jan. 26,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If the fire is not brought under control soon, it may spread to the Nyagchukha county seat and to a small monastery located on the side of a mountain called Phagmo Hill,” he said.

Nyagchukha, one of 18 counties under the jurisdiction of Kardze prefecture, is famous as the home of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a popular and well-respected Tibetan religious leader jailed by China since 2002 on bombing charges widely believed to have been contrived.

Tourist town burns

Fire rages near a highway in Nyagchuka county, Jan. 25, 2014. (Photo courtesy of an RFA listener)
Fire rages near a highway in Nyagchuka county, Jan. 25, 2014. (Photo courtesy of an RFA listener)

The fire in Nyagchukha comes two weeks after a fire in southwestern China’s Yunnan province destroyed a large part of an ancient Tibetan town popular with tourists, leaving thousands homeless and without relief supplies in freezing temperatures.

The Jan. 11 fire ripped through the 1,300-year-old Tibetan town of Gyalthang, an area of Yunnan believed to be the inspiration for James Hilton's mythical Shangri-La, destroying around two-thirds of the town center, according to official Chinese media.

Just over 240 houses were burned down in the fire in Gyalthang (Shangri-la) county in the Dechen (Diqing) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

And that fire came just days after a massive blaze destroyed around 100 houses of nuns studying at a prominent Buddhist academy in a Tibetan area of Sichuan province, also in southwestern China.

The cause of the fire at the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Kardze prefecture’s Serthar (Seda) county is still unknown, with some sources saying it could have been triggered by a butter lamp in a nun’s residence or by a faulty power line.

Meanwhile, a massive fire in November destroyed the main prayer hall of Kardze’s Lithang monastery, RFA’s source said.

“[And] before the Lithang fire, Kathok monastery in Kardze also suffered a major fire, which caused serious damage to the monastery and to many of its precious objects of worship,” he said.

Reported by Yangdon Demo and Lobsang Sherab for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect number for the counties in Kardze prefecture.


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