Kremlin furious as forest fires rage in Siberia

1st October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian emergency services on Saturday stepped up their fight against forest fires in Siberia that left a major city covered in toxic smog and prompted a furious reaction from President Dmitry Medvedev.

Over 173 hectares of fires were burning in the forest zone around the central Siberian city of Bratsk, the emergencies ministry said, in one of the worst single outbreaks of wildfires in Russia this year.

It said that over 1,000 rescue workers were already engaged in fighting the fires along with water-bombing helicopters and this would be increased to almost 1,500 people.

The Kommersant daily said that the fires had left Bratsk -- a major regional centre with a population of 250,000 -- swathed in smog with visibility of just 30 metres and up to 20 times more carbon particles in the air than normal.

Russian officials, haunted by summer wildfires last year that left Moscow covered in a similar smog and drastically increased mortality rates, have lambasted the local authorities for allowing the fires to spread.

"It's not as though these fires are burning hundreds of hectares away. They are in the park, practically in the centre of the city," fumed Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Addressing the region's leaders in video-conference, he said: "You've made a great show for the whole country and you've made the city of Bratsk famous for not being able to deal with basic fires."

His anger was echoed by President Dmitry Medvedev.

"I am simply astonished that neither the local nor the regional leadership are making a normal effort. This is a cause for organisational conclusions," he said, quoted by the Kremlin press service.

The governor the the Irkutsk region which includes Bratsk, Dmitry Mezentsev, ordered the resignation of the city's administration chief Alexander Tuikov over the failure to combat the fires, according to an official statement.

© 2011 AFP

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