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Fatal grassland blaze in southwest China started by child

12-19-2010 17:35 BJT

CHENGDU, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) -- A 6-year-old boy playing with matches started a grassland fire that killed 23 people in a southwest China Tibetan area earlier this month, the local authorities said Sunday.

The mother of the boy, whose identity was not disclosed, was also killed in the blaze, which raged through the plateau grassland in Dawor (Daofu in Mandarin) County, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze, Sichuan Province, on Dec. 5, a provincial publicity official said.

The mother took her three sons to the grassland to fix the family's prayer streamers -- commonly fixed on hilltops in a Tibetan Buddhist custom. One of the boys was playing with matches and lit a bunch of dried branches and cloth when his mother was not watching, the official said.

Winds drove the blaze over the grassland. The mother tried but failed to put out the fire, he said. The fire was put out a day later after 2,000 people joined the fire-fighting effort.

About two dozen soldiers and local residents were trapped when the wind turned at the initial stage of the operation. Twenty-two died at the scene and one critically injured person died in hospital on Dec. 17.

Police say the child is too young to be prosecuted under the law, but no decision has been made as to whether action will be taken against his family.

Dawor sits in a forest-covered area at the eastern edge of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. It has a population of 45,000, about 89 percent of whom are ethnic Tibetans.

A string of deadly fires has hit China in recent weeks as most of the country braces for an especially dry winter.

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