Night fuel

 Eight Die As Wildfires Consume Russian Villages

07 September 2010

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Russian: A firefighter works to extinguish fire in the village of Lapshinskaya, destroyed by wildfires, north-east of Volgograd, September 3, 2010.
Photo: Viktor Yashukov

Wildfires swept through dozens of villages in southern Russia, killing at least eight people and reducing more than 400 homes to smoldering ruins, officials said Friday.

The blazes in the provinces on the Volga River southeast of Moscow followed wildfires that killed at least 54 in central Russia in July and August during Russia’s worst heat wave ever recorded and prompted criticism of the government response.

Fires fanned by high winds and months of drought destroyed more than 500 buildings in at least 26 villages in Volgograd and Saratov provinces, injuring at least 17 people, Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Chernova told Reuters.

Television pictures showed smoke rising from the blackened ruins of a village of wooden houses in the Volgograd region.

“Our house has burned down, everything has burned down. There’s nothing left,” said a middle-aged villager, her voice breaking as she spoke.

More than 2,500 people and at least five planes were involved in fighting the fires, the Emergencies Ministry said in a statement. Television pictures showed uniformed men running with buckets of water and shoveling dirt onto fires.

“We are working on localizing the fires, the situation is under control,” Chernova said.

Most of the fires were caused by human activity, with short circuits from electricity cables to blame for others, the Emergencies Ministry said.

In a televised meeting with Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised 1 billion roubles ($34.35 million) to each of the stricken regions to house those who lost their homes.

Opposition politicians say a government-mandated restructuring gutted Russia’s forest management system during Putin’s 2000-2008 presidency, badly slowing the response to the to the fires earlier this summer.

Opinion polls, however, indicate Putin’s popularity has not declined since the heatwave hit Russia in mid-July.

(Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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