Officials quit after Kremlin warning over fires: reports

6th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Three regional officials quit Monday over forest fires that killed eight people and burnt down more than 400 homes in Russia's southern farmlands, news agencies reported.

A deputy governor of the Volgograd region, Igor Pikalov, quit after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for officials to stand down over the fires. The heads of two municipal districts also quit, ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

"I would like the heads of municipal districts to wake up as a result of the prosecutors' activities," Medvedev told Prosecutor General Yury Chaika on Saturday in comments published on the Kremlin web site.

The region failed to create fire-breaks to protect residential areas from fires in the surrounding steppe, Medvedev said. "The fire spread with huge speed. In this case, it is the responsibility of municipal authorities."

The Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor's Office announced Sunday that it had launched criminal investigations into the fire deaths. Officials could be jailed for up to seven years if charged with negligence causing deaths.

Fresh fires flared up last week in the southern Volgograd and Saratov regions amid strong winds. Authorities said the fires had been brought under control on Friday.

The fires came as Russia still had to assess the full cost of a record drought and wildfires that destroyed over a quarter of the country's crops this summer -- prompting a temporary ban on grain exports.

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.

© 2010 AFP

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