BEIJING – Investigators say lighting sparked a forest fire in mountainous western China last month that killed 27 firefighters and four local helpers.
The 31 died after wind, dry air and combustible material creative an explosive effect, in one of the worst disasters to strike Chinese first responders.
Acting on accounts of eyewitnesses in Sichuan province's Muli county, investigators located an 18-meter (59-foot) pine tree split by lightning that they identified as the fire's origin point. They said that after igniting the tree, the fire spread to the thick layer of decomposed plant material on the ground known as humus.
A surviving firefighter said the fire advanced so quickly that trees on the ridge were consumed within seconds, with flames rocketing up as if "someone triggered a huge flamethrower."