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Health Officials Say 17 Dead In Siberia Fires

  • RFE/RL

Health officials in the southern Siberian region of Khakasia say 15 people have been killed by wind-whipped fires that have burned more than 1,200 homes in dozens of towns and villages.

Fires in the region of Chita, in eastern Siberia, also killed two people, according to authorities.

Irina Emelianova, a spokeswoman for the regional authorities, said that 468 people were hurt, 77 hospitalized, and eight were in critical condition, with one person missing.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said on its website that all fires in Khakasia had been extinguished as of noon local time.

State-run news agency TASS quoted a senior emergency official, Boris Borzov, as saying that 1,205 buildings in 38 towns and villages had been damaged by fire.

Authorities said that 700 cattle and 3,000 sheep were also killed. They said they are concerned that the livestock that did survive had nowhere to graze.

Russian Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Aleksandr Chuprian said that "this fire would not have happened if no one played with matches," adding that it was adults and not children who were responsible.

A spokeswoman for Kyrgyzstan's Migration Ministry, Aisulu Isabek Kyzy, told RFE/RL that the fires destroyed the homes of 12 Kyrgyz families living ln Khakasia.

Thousands of Kyrgyz citizens live in the Russian region, whose indigenous Khakas people have historical, cultural, and linguistic ties with Kyrgyz.

Officials have said the fires were started by someone illegally burning dry grass in warm temperatures and high winds. The intensity of the fires allowed them to be seen from space in images broadcast by satellites.

Wildfires, some caused by humans, have been a serious problem in Siberia in recent years. Farmers often set fire to dry grass to clean up fields after the winter, which can sometimes lead to massive blazes.

In 2010 Russia experienced its worst heatwave in decades, which caused hundreds of fires, filling Moscow with smoke.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, RIA Novosti, and AFP