Russia — Russian police have detained more than 60 people possibly responsible for forest fires burning uncontrolled for days in a central Siberian province, threatening a major city.
The detentions reported by the Interfax news agency came as hundreds of firefighters battled blazes approaching the city of Bratsk, some 3,800 kilometres east of the Russian capital Moscow.
At least thirteen separate fires have been burning in the vicinity of Bratsk since late September, and most if not all of them were likely set by arsonists, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.
The RIA Novosti news agency on Tuesday estimated the total area of forest on fire in the Bratsk vicinity at some 760 square hectares, a substantial jump over 50 square hectares reported to be burning on Friday.
More than 300 firefighters supported by dozens of trucks and a pair of water-bombing aircraft were fighting to limit the spread of the forest fires, but thick smoke and rugged terrain were complicating their work, a statement from Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry said.
Some 80 firefighters trained to jump into burning regions by parachute, and close to 100 police trainees ‘mobilised’ from their studies at an Irkutsk academy were assisting in the firefighting effort, according to news reports.
Sergei Shoigu, head of Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry, on Friday sharply criticized Bratsk region officials for failing to bring under long-burning fires under control, which has spiked air pollution in the city to double safe levels for close to a week.
Shoigu at the time threatened wholesale sackings of local officials if the firefighting effort was not stepped up over the weekend.