Mongolian fires worsen

IUlan Bator - Mongolian schoolboys joined thousands of soldiers to battle fires whipped up across the steppes by high winds yesterday as one injured teenage firefighter fought for his life in an Ulan Bator hospital.

"This afternoon the winds have been so strong that the fire is spreading in all directions extremely fast," army spokesman Damdinsuren said. "The winds have whipped up such a fierce blaze that the firefighters can do nothing more than try to protect camps and cattle," he said.

The remains of three firefighters had been found in the region's Erdenemandal county, lying near their horses, he said. "Only ashes were left."

Scores of fires have roared across Mongolia's steppes, 250 to 300 miles from the capital, in the past three weeks. The latest deaths raised the toll to 19, with 60 injured. The fires have left 700 people homeless and destroyed about 30,000 square miles of forests and pastureland. About 6,000 cattle, the lifeline of Mongolia's nomadic herders, have been killed.

A total of 5,800 people were trying to hold back seven fires and all the oldest schoolboys had been deployed to join soldiers and locals in combating the blazes, Damdinsuren said.

Firefighter Batmoenkh, 16, lay in hospital fighting for life after suffering 90 per cent burns as he battled a huge blaze in Batsumber county, about 40 miles north of the capital.