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Medvedev sacks officers over Russia fire failures

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday fired a string of officers over failures to stop wildfires that have killed 48 people as a new blaze raged close to a top secret nuclear research facility.

With the week-long crisis showing no sign of abating, the emergencies ministry said hundreds of new fires had started over the past day and more bodies were found, raising the death toll to 48.

Medvedev cut short his traditional summer break in the southern resort of Sochi and returned to Moscow to chair an emergency meeting of the national security council on the fire disaster.

In a stunning announcement, he formally warned the head of the Russian Navy Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky and his deputy Alexander Tatarinov over “incomplete professional responsibility” in a tackling a fire last week.

Fires from the countryside had ripped through a naval logistics base in Kolomna, southeast of Moscow, and destroyed office buildings and warehouses and equipment.

The damage was colossal: the staff headquarters, financial department, 13 warehouses containing aeronautical equipment and 17 storage areas containing vehicles were destroyed in the blaze.

“I order the ministry of defence to fire a whole number of officers for the disciplinary infringements that were allowed to take place,” the president added in televised comments.

Those sacked included the head of the Russian Navy’s logistics division Sergei Sergeyev and the head of the Navy’s aviation Nikolai Kuklev, Medvedev said.

“If something similar happens in other places and departments, I will act in the same way, without any pity,” Medvedev added.

The authorities meanwhile moved to prevent an even greater calamity as wildfires raged within a few kilometres of country’s top secret nuclear research facility in Sarov, a city still closed to foreigners.

Officials said all dangerous nuclear materials had been moved away and over 2,000 emergency services personnel and hundreds of members of the armed forces were sent to Sarov.

“All explosive and radioactive materials have been taken away,” the head of Russia’s nuclear agency Sergei Kiriyenko told Medvedev.

“I can guarantee that even in an extreme situation with squalling winds there is no danger to nuclear security, no threat of radiation, explosions, or environmental consequences,” he added.

The emergencies ministry said that over the past 24 hours 403 new forest fires had been recorded, while 293 fires had been extinguished over the same period.

It said that 520 forest fires were still raging in Russia, covering a total area of 188,525 hectares (465,000 acres). The situation has deteriorated from Tuesday, when the total area was 172,372 hectares.

Eight more bodies were found in burned-out houses and “altogether 48 people have been killed” in the fires, it said.

A heavy smog from the wildfires burning in the countryside around Moscow again blanketed the Russian capital with visibility in the city centre only 300 metres in the early morning.

As the authorities tried to show they were on top of the situation, strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited the Voronezh region south of Moscow, one of the areas worst hit by the flames.

“The situation here is complicated, the heat is unimaginable for these locations, the strongest in 140 years,” he said.

Prosecutors have meanwhile opened a criminal case into negligence over the failure of officials at a national park in the Sverdlovsk region in the Urals to take timely measures to extinguish fires.

The fires have been sparked by Russia’s worst heatwave in decades which saw all-time temperature records in Moscow tumble throughout the last month.

However officials have also lashed out at the public for making the situation even worse over the weekend by carelessly leaving campfires burning during their excursions to the countryside.