Wildfires in Russia become political issue

Wildfires in Russia become political issue
# 30 July 2010 22:53 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged the heads of the fire-ravaged municipalities to quit as "they lost people’s trust," local media reported on Friday, APA reports quoting news.xinhuanet.com website.

Putin made his tough statement after more forest and peat bog fires started on Friday in central Russia, killing more than 20 people and destroying about 1,000 houses. The recent fires added another headache for the regional authorities which have been recuperating from the worst drought in 130 years.

"I recommend the resignation of the heads of the regions, who have to a significant degree lost people’s trust," the prime minister was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

Many residents of the fire-stricken region Nizhny Novgorod complained to Putin that the actions taken by the local authorities were "chaotic" and "uncoordinated."

In Nizhny Novgorod region, some 400 km east of Moscow, three villages of 664 houses in total have burnt to ashes and three more villages have burnt out in parts, leaving over 1,300 people homeless, RIA Novosti reported.

Thousands of residents have been evacuated so far from the areas threatened by fast spreading fires, the Emergencies Ministry said.

In Voronezh region, about 400 km south of Moscow, at least five people including a firefighter were killed and nearly 440 others hospitalized with burns.

In Vladimir region, over 70 houses were destroyed. Some 60 houses were burnt down in Moscow region.

In Ryazan region, four people were killed and 233 houses burnt, leaving 550 people homeless.

In Lipetsk oblast, two people died. Some 200 houses and several hundreds hectares of crops were destroyed by fire.

"According to the reports till 16:00 Moscow time (1200 GMT), the death toll from the wildfires in the Central Federal District and the Volga River region reached 25 people," a source with the Emergencies Ministry told the Itar-Tass news agency.

Local media said that the heatwave and tornados coupled with human negligence caused the wildfires.

Fires also broke out in 15 national parks and reserves, Deputy Minister for Natural Resources Igor Maidanov said.

Putin flew to the Nizhny Novogorod region to assess the situation, where he promised that new homes would be built before the winter. Meanwhile, every victim will receive 10,000 rubles ( about 330 U.S. dollars) as an immediate compensation with no paperwork required.

In addition, Putin ordered to pay the victims’ families a compensation of one million rubles (about 33,000 dollars) for each person killed by the fire.

After returning to Moscow, Putin signed a decree on the allocation of 5 billion rubles (165 million dollars) in assistance for those who lost their homes to fire in the 14 regions.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev conducted an emergency meeting where he ordered army units to join firefighters throughout the country to contain the fires.

The Emergencies Ministry has sent 16 aircraft and helicopters and additional firefighting units to battle the wildfires, the RIA Novosti news agency said.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry set up an emergency office for monitoring the wildfires. According to the ministry, the office has some 2,000 troops and 50 combat vehicles under its command.

In addition, a 5,000-strong police force has been deployed in the affected areas to prevent looting, the Interior Ministry said.