An enormous fire destroyed a large part of an ancient Tibetan village in Shangri-La County in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, where more than 240 homes burned down or were damaged by the flames as thousands of people were evacuated.
The blaze spread through the legendary town of Dukezong and burned for more than nine hours after the fire started early Saturday.
After breaking out around 1:00 a.m., the blaze was not extinguished until more than nine hours later, the official news agency Xinhua said, which for now has not reported any victims.
Though the amount of material damage is still being determined, Xinhua said that many businesses have been destroyed along with numerous cultural relics such as "thangkas" (tapestries) and other Tibetan works of great value.
Dukezong, whose name signifies "city of the moon" in Tibetan, is one of the leading Tibetan tourist attractions in China. It was founded 1,300 years ago and to this day some of the most ancient homes of that ethnicity are still standing, which over the years has drawn crowds of foreign and local visitors.
According to the Chinese national television network CCTV, more than 2,000 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers were rushed to the scene early Saturday to put out a blaze that had forced 2,400 people to be evacuated out of a permanent population of some 3,000.
The houses of Dukezong, which was an important stop on the Silk Road through the south - also known as the "ancient route of tea and horses" - are principally built of wood, which meant the flames spread rapidly and made the firefighters' work that much harder, as did the high winds.
Authorities have opened an investigation into this devastating fire, though for now the possibility of arson has been dismissed. EFE