Forest fire kills 13 Nepalese soldiers

Forest fire kills 13 Nepalese soldiers Kathmandu - At least 13 Nepalese soldiers were killed Thursday trying to put out a forest fire in central Nepal, officials said.

The soldiers were killed when the forest fire in Ramechaap district, about 100 kilometres east of Kathmandu, changed course, cutting off the soldiers' escape route, the district police office said.

The soldiers who died were part of a 130-member team deployed to put out the massive blaze in a pine forest in the Srikandanda hills close to the town of Ramechaap Bazar.

Police said the fire raged out of control and was threatening a hospital in the town when the soldiers were deployed.

"The rescue teams have recovered the bodies of 13 soldiers who died in the accident," chief government administrator Jitendra Bahadur Bhandari said.

"At least two other soldiers could be missing, but we will know other details only after all soldiers return to barracks and are accounted for," Bhandari said.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but officials said they suspected the fire was started by a cigarette thrown by people venturing into the forest.

There was also the possibility that the fire could have started from a market organized in the town close to the forest every Thursday, Bhandari said.

Forest fires are common in Nepal during April and early May. However, they have been particularly bad this year because of nearly five months in which much of the country did not receive any rain.

The country's meteorological department in its report said many parts of the country had received less than half the normal rainfall in March after five months of drought-like conditions. (dpa)