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Sunday, 9 April, 2000, 19:03 GMT 20:03 UK
Fatal heatwave in India
bihar village
Heatwaves are common in Bihar
By Manikant Thakur in Patna

A heatwave is crossing the north Indian state of Bihar causing temperatures to rise above 40C.

The authorities say the rising temperatures have caused the deaths of more than 20 people.

Firefighters say more than 20 major fires have been reported in the state in less than a week.

They say the worst fires have been in Bihar's remote villages where many houses have thatched roofs.

More than 2,000 thatched houses are reported to have been burnt down so far.

The fires have also killed a large number of cattle and destroyed millions of rupees worth of crops.

The northern district of Bettiah has been the worst affected, with at least eight official deaths recorded there as a result of fire.

Burnt alive

Four children have been burnt alive in their homes in the district of Samstipur and similar reports have come in from at least four other districts.

Such fires are common during the summer months but officials say they are concerned by the scale of the problem this year.

Bihar's Chief Fire Officer, Satguru Prasad, told the BBC that the authorities have yet to map out an effective firefighting plan for rural areas.

He said villages without proper roads are often very inacccessible, and even in those villages with access, the roads are often in such a bad state that it takes hours to reach there.

Scarcity of water is another problem.

Mr Prasad called on the authorities to set up small fire booths in rural areas, which would be equipped with fire extinguishers and a large supply of water.

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08 May 99 | South Asia
Heat takes its toll in India
09 Jul 99 | South Asia
25 killed in Bihar floods
04 Jan 00 | South Asia
India hit by cold snap
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