China fights bushfires, extends power rationing amid drought

BEIJING (AP) — Bushfires have forced the evacuation of more than 1,500 people in southwest China and power rationing for factories has reportedly been extended amid weeks of record heat and drought hit the region.

Some shopping malls in the Chongqing megacity have been closed for most of the day to reduce electricity demand, state broadcaster CCTV said, limiting opening hours to 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Drought and heat have withered crops and caused rivers, including the giant Yangtze, to shrink, disrupting freight traffic and reducing power to hydroelectric dams at a time of skyrocketing demand for air conditioning. State media say the government will try to protect the fall grain harvest, which accounts for 75% of China’s annual total, by launching chemicals into the clouds in an attempt to generate rain.

The disruption adds to challenges for the ruling Communist Party, which is trying to shore up sluggish economic growth ahead of a meeting this fall in which President Xi Jinping is expected to be given a third five-year term as party leader.

There was no public announcement of the extension of power rationing in Sichuan province to a second week, but it was detailed in a company statement and a government notice to businesses. which was reported by Chinese media.

The “tense situation” of electricity supply in Sichuan province “has further intensified,” Tencent News said Monday in a report that included a photo of the government notice.

LIER Chemical Co. said in an announcement through the southern city of Shenzhen stock exchange that its facilities in the cities of Jinyang and Guang’an in Sichuan had received an order extending power rationing until on Thursday.

Factories in Sichuan that make processor chips, solar panels, auto components and other industrial goods had to shut down or scale back operations last week to save energy for homes as demand for air conditioning spiked to temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit). Air conditioning, elevators and lights have been cut in offices and shopping malls.

In Shanghai, a factory and shipping center on the east coast of China, Tesla Ltd. and a major state-owned automaker suspended production last week due to a disruption in the supply of components from Sichuan, the Shanghai city government said.

Sichuan, with 94 million inhabitants, is particularly affected because it draws 80% of its electricity from hydroelectric dams. Other provinces are more dependent on coal power, which is not affected.

Economists say if Sichuan reopens relatively early, the national impact should be limited as the province accounts for just 4% of China’s industrial output.

The Chinese government says this summer is the hottest and driest in China since it began recording temperatures and rainfall in 1961. Temperatures have topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) over the past week and more.

Bushfires in outlying areas of Chongqing, which borders Sichuan, are the latest plague resulting from the heat and drought.

More than 1,500 residents have been moved to shelters, while around 5,000 civilians and soldiers have been mobilized to put out the fires, the official Xinhua news agency said on Monday.

Helicopters were dispatched to drop water on the blazes, supporting ground crews who in the past have been left to fend for themselves.

In 2019, a forest fire in the mountains of Sichuan province killed 30 firefighters and volunteers.

No deaths have yet been reported as a result of the heat wave, Xinhua said, although this could not be independently verified.