At least 15 people have died as a result of grass fires that have ripped through more than 40 villages and towns in the Siberian republic of Khakassia in Russia.
More than 70 people had to be treated for burns and smoke inhalation, while 1,200 homes were destroyed as flames fuelled by strong winds ravaged settlements throughout the republic situated in the country’s remote southern Siberian region.
Some 5,000 firefighters and thousands more volunteers were said to have worked day and night to save a reported 60,000 properties from destruction and take control of the fire. Planes and helicopters were also used in a bid to stop the fire from spreading.
On Monday morning, safety officials reported that the fire had been largely put out but firefighters were still on high alert to ensure that no new fires started.
The fire is reported to have been the product of mass grass burning by residents in the area.
Grass burning has become a tradition in Russia, and every spring fires are started in agricultural areas in a bid to “enrich the soil with ashes.”
This is often carried out without care, Greenpeace say, and can lead to massive fires that destroy property, crops and wildlife across the region.
Officials said that this year’s particularly severe fires were caused by “uncontrolled burning, dry weather and uncharacteristically “strong and rough winds”.
“As soon as snow melts while rivers are still covered by ice, dry grass burns like gunpowder,' said emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov, “People begin to burn grass on their plots and fire spreads to agricultural land and pastures are burnt.”
Temporary camps were set up in the republic's Beisky and Shirinsky districts to accommodate people displaced by the fire.
An investigation is now currently underway to find out exactly where the fire was started.Reuse content