Six dead in Kazakh forest fires close to Russia: official

9th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Emergency workers on Thursday battled raging forest fires that have killed six people in northeastern Kazakhstan and destroyed an entire village in a neighbouring Russian region.

Russian officials said fires that had originated in Kazakhstan destroyed more than 400 houses in the Siberian region of Altai with one village, Nikolayevka, entirely destroyed by the flames.

The fires, covering an area of 3,300 hectares (8,100 acres) have been raging in the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan which lies just south of Russia's Altai region.

"Six people -- three forestry workers and three locals -- have been killed as a result of forest fires in the Pavlodar region," the Kazakh agriculture ministry said in a statement quoted by the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency.

Emergency services on both sides of the border were mobilizing their forces in a joint effort to prevent the fires from spreading out of control.

Russia was sending three more fire-fighting trains equipped with huge cisterns of water to the Altai region as well as two aircraft to douse the blazes, the Russian emergencies ministry said in a statement.

Another giant Russian Ilyushin-76 aircraft would also be employed in Kazakhstan, it added. High winds were also impeding the firefighting efforts.

The Kazakh emergencies ministry said that 500 people and 100 pieces of equipment had been deployed to fight the blazes.

"A corridor has been opened for aviation of the Russian emergencies ministry to put out the fires in the border zone," it said.

The fresh fire outbreak comes after Russia battled hundreds of blazes earlier this year, in a major national crisis that saw some fires come dangerously close to some of its top nuclear centres.

Even after most of the fires in central Russia were quelled in August new fires killed eight people and burned down more than 400 homes in southern Russia last week.

The reappearance of the fires as summer draws to an end is a major embarrassment for the Russian authorities, who have been accused by environmentalists of intentionally under-reporting the scale of the disaster.

The governor of Russia's Altai region, Alexander Karlin, has declared a state of emergency on 13 districts of his region after the fires, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The Russian emergencies ministry said that as a result of the latest fires the area of blazes active nationwide in Russia had increased 40 times over the last 24 hours to 6,640 hectares with 24 fires still raging.

Forest fires ravaged about a million hectares in Russia in recent months, destroying whole villages and leaving more than 50 people dead, according to official tallies.

Fires also threatened several nuclear plants and engulfed Moscow in a thick cloud of smog causing death rates in the capital to double during the heatwave, according to official statistics.

An emergency alert was lifted on August 23 in the last of the seven regions affected by the fires.

© 2010 AFP

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