21 dead in suspected arson wildfires in Russia

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The death toll from wildfires raging in Russia’s Urals region has risen to 21, according to the state news agency TASS. Medical officials warn that the tally is likely to increase, with some of the fires suspected to have been caused by arson, according to Reuters.

The emergencies ministry in Kurgan region near the border with Kazakhstan has identified 46 suspects, including minors, and initiated seven criminal cases against alleged arsonists. However, the motives of the suspected arsonists remain unclear.

Wildfires have long been a problem in Russia’s forests and steppes during hotter months, but in recent years, they have grown in intensity. The 2021 fire season was Russia’s largest ever, with 18.8 million hectares of forest destroyed, according to Greenpeace Russia. Last year, wildfire smoke blew hundreds of miles to Moscow, choking city residents.

Fires began in late April in the Kurgan and neighbouring Tyumen regions. Russian Emergencies Minister Alexander Kurenkov flew to Kurgan on Monday as the blazes continued to spread.

Evacuations of residents are underway, and hundreds of homes have been razed. Officials said that firefighters are working to contain the fires, with footage showing them training their hoses on burning fields, and a plane scooping up water from a reservoir and releasing it over the fire.

Vadim Shumkov, governor of Kurgan region, announced on his Telegram channel that he was cancelling Tuesday’s planned Victory Day parade and fireworks display due to the fires, although concerts and other events would continue. Shumkov declared a state of emergency in the region on Monday.

The situation remains tense, with authorities and emergency services closely monitoring the fires and their impact on the local communities. The Russian government has assured the public that it will do everything possible to contain the wildfires and support those affected.

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