Huge Siberia wildfires kill 17
Seventeen people died and more than 460 sought medical treatment after wildfires blamed on adults who had "played with matches" swept through Siberia, authorities said on Monday.
More than 5,000 rescue workers battled through the night to contain the blazes in the region of Khakassia in southeastern Siberia where 15 people died.
Fires also raged in eastern Siberia claiming two lives, authorities said, citing only preliminary information.
President Vladimir Putin personally coordinated the work of emergencies services in Khakassia, his spokesman said.
The authorities blamed the fire on human carelessness, with people setting dry grass ablaze amid warm temperatures and high winds.
“This fire would not have happened if no one played with matches,” said deputy emergencies minister Alexander Chupriyan, referring to the fires that raged through Kakhassia on Sunday.
“And it was adults and not children who did this.”
National television said the fires were so intense they could be seen from space broadcasting satellite imagery of hotspots and saying flames reached some three meters high.
A total of 468 people were hurt and 77 people were hospitalised, said a spokeswoman for the regional authorities, Irina Emelianova.
Of those hospitalised, eight were in a critical condition, said Emelianova, adding that one person was missing.
“The temperature on Sunday was 25 degrees Celsius and there were also storm winds,” she told AFP.
“This combination caused the fires,” she added. “We have never had this before.”
More than 30 villages have been affected, she added.
Authorities said the region sustained “huge damage” as a result of the blazes.
At least 700 cattle and some 3,000 sheep had perished, they said in a statement.
Authorities added that they were concerned that the cattle that survived had nowhere to graze now. “Tens of square kilometres of land have been burned,” said the statement.
Moscow-based investigators opened five criminal probes into the Khakassia fires over negligence.
– Deaths in eastern Siberia –
Also Monday, rescue workers raced to put out wildfires in the region of Chita in eastern Siberia.
Regional Governor Konstantin Ilkovsky, citing preliminary information, said in televised remarks that two people had died.
He called on locals not to burn grass and urged residents of several settlements to evacuate.
“The situation is very serious,” he was quoted by his administration as saying.
Authorities said they were also battling fires near local ammunition depots, but insisted there was no danger of explosions.
Russian farmers routinely set fire to dry grass to clean up fields after the winter, sometimes accidentally sparking massive blazes that result in loss of life and damage to homes.
In 2010, during Russia’s worst heatwave in decades, smoke from wildfires and burning peat bogs in central Russia choked Moscow for several days. Officials said the death rate in Moscow soared by 50 percent at the time.