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Fires Rage In South Siberia

  • RFE/RL

Russia's south Siberian region of Khakasia has declared an emergency situation as fires in the area have spread, burning down more than 100 buildings and homes and injuring at least 49 people.

Local officials said 21 populated areas in five districts were affected by the fires, which officials said were started by someone illegally burning grass.

Of the 49 people reported injured, two were said to be in critical condition.

Most of the buildings that were burned down were homes.

In the town of Sayanogorsk, officials said they have been urging residents to go out and help tackle the blaze but the same officials admitted there was not enough water to totally extinguish the flames and many residents had stopped fighting the fire and fled to another nearby settlement.

The local branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry has similarly been calling on residents throughout the region to help battle the fire.

The local branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry said there were already some 90 firefighting vehicles and about 500 firefighters trying to contain and extinguish the fires and help was being brought in from neighboring republics.

Khakasia's administrative head, Vitkor Zimin, said nearly 5,000 local residents were helping firefighters. He also put the number of injured at 58 and said there were reports being checked that two people had died.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered more than 700 troops and some 40 military vehicles to go to areas where the fires were burning and help firefighters and local residents.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said it was sending three firefighting planes and two helicopters to the scene to aid in quenching the flames, however local officials said the helicopters could not be used due to strong winds.

The wind was reportedly gusting to 30 kilometers an hour in some areas.

In Moscow, Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov ordered all regions in Siberia to be on heightened alert for fires and "put under constant and tight control any unpermitted and uncontrolled fires on agricultural or grasslands."

"Don’t allow fires to spread," Puhckov ordered.

Fires in Siberia have been an enormous problem, burning thousands of hectares of land every year.

Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax