Death toll climbs as Russia forest fires spread

1st August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Firefighters on Sunday pressed on with battling forest fires that have killed at least 30 people, destroyed thousands of homes and forced the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of emergency workers.

Fires in the sparsely populated Far Eastern region grew three times in size over the last 24 hours, covering 100,000 hectares, with the remote Kamchatka peninsula being hardest hit, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported Sunday, citing the region's forestry department.

The emergency ministry said Saturday that forest fires had covered more than 120,000 hectares over the whole of Russia. It mobilised almost 240,000 emergency workers to fight the blaze, along with 2,000 members of the armed forces.

The emergency situations ministry gave a death toll of 28 on Saturday, including seven in the Moscow region.

Two more bodies were found Sunday in a burnt-out village in the Nizhny Novgorod region, that region's emergency ministry told the RIA Novosti news agency, raising the number of deaths reported by officials to 33, including three firemen, according to local counts.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the situation a "natural disaster of the kind that probably only happens every 30 or 40 years" on Saturday.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that 1,257 houses had been burnt down. IN televised comments Saturday, he promised that they would all be rebuilt by October.

Speaking via video link with regional governors, Putin berated officials for their tardy response, saying: "Not everything was done in a timely way, but now is not the time to squabbling."

The fires triggered by one of Russia's worst heatwaves have devastated the regions in the centre and the Volga river basin, to the east and southeast of Moscow.

Temperatures were forecast to hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next few days in affected regions, with the emergency ministry warning of an "extreme risk" of more forest fires.

© 2010 AFP

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