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    The Firefighter Documenting Sichuan’s Plateau Forest Fires

    Firefighter Cheng Xueli was recruited to contain Sichuan’s recent forest fires in Yajiang County, documenting his colleagues as they worked at over 4,000 meters above sea level.
    Mar 28, 2024#disasters

    After nearly two weeks of firefighting, forest fires in Sichuan’s Yajiang County were reported extinguished on Thursday morning, according to the local emergency management bureau.

    “It was extremely hard to put out these recent fires,” says Cheng Xueli, a front-line firefighter, “owing to the high altitude, dense forest, and erratic and strong winds.”

    As a member of Sichuan province’s firefighting service, Cheng was called upon to fight the conflagration, which began on March 15. He also recorded his fellow firefighters as they tackled the disaster via photos and videos. “I thought I should record this historic and particularly high mountain forest fire,” he says.

    Among the 148 operations in his 17-year career, Cheng states that the fires in Yajiang  — at 4,000 to 4,700 meters above sea level — were the highest he’s witnessed. “Part of the fireground was even covered with snow,” Cheng tells Sixth Tone.

    The high altitude proved a challenge to Cheng and his colleagues, who had mostly traveled in from Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu, where the altitude only reaches around 500 meters. Almost all 100 team members suffered from altitude sickness, with symptoms spanning headaches to trouble sleeping. As they were not able to use the oxygen tanks at the fire site, the firefighters could only take Rhodiola rosea pills — believed to reduce the effects of altitude sickness — or drink cola for relief.

    Sixth Tone selected 28 photos taken by Cheng documenting the forest fire in Yajiang.

    Editor: Tom Arnstein.