China Ousts Its Forestry Chief for 'Dereliction' in Major Fire

United Press International

Forestry Minister Yang Zhong was fired Saturday for "serious dereliction of duty" in fighting the nation's worst forest fire, the New China News Agency said.

The official news agency said Yang was dismissed during a meeting of the State Council, four days after the fire that raged for 25 days across Heilongjiang province, 900 miles northeast of Beijing, was declared extinguished.

The fire killed at least 193 people and left an estimated 56,000 people homeless.

"The State Council has decided to sack Yang Zhong from the post of minister of forestry for serious dereliction of duty and serious bureaucratic mismanagement in connection with China's worst forest fire," the news agency said. Yang, 55, had held the post for five years.

The State Council said everyone responsible for fighting the fire will be dealt with "strictly." It also will launch a full inquiry into the blaze.

Five forestry workers were reported arrested earlier for causing the fire. The workers were accused of negligence in tossing lighted cigarette butts into dry grass or igniting spilled oil with sparks from their chain saws. A Forestry Ministry official said they could face the death penalty if convicted.

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