Forest Fire Threatens to Engulf 500-year-old Buddhist Temple in SW China

Xinhua, May 15, 2010

Kunming, China -- A forest fire broke out near the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming Saturday and was racing towards a 500-year-old Buddhist temple -- the city's famed tourist spot, local authorities said.

Tourists and monks had been evacuated from the Qiongzhu Temple (Bamboo Temple) by Saturday afternoon as firefighters were not able to contain the blaze, officials with the city's fire bureau said.

The fire started on the mountain behind the temple Saturday noon and had spread fast in the tinder dry forest. Gales and a shortage of water in the city's reservoir hampered the efforts of firefighters, the bureau said.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

Earlier this year, China's southwestern region was hit by a severe drought, the worst in decades. The drought was only slightly relieved in mid-April when spring rains started to fall.