Russia

Medvedev sacks officials for negligence as 50 die in wildfires

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been forced to respond to public criticism of the government's handling of the fire outbreak.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been forced to respond to public criticism of the government's handling of the fire outbreak. Reuters

The death toll in Russia's worst forest fires in modern history had reached 50 by Thursday, as the area consumed by flames continued to increase. President Dmitri Medvedev has sacked several senior military officers for failing to respoind adequtely to the disaster.

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The total area ablaze has increased by around 7,000 hectares over the past 24 hours to reach 196,000 hectares, according to the Emergencies Ministry.

During the same period, 373 new fires appeared and 245 were extinguished. That leaves a total of 589 fires still burning.

Since Wednesday a corpse has been recovered from a burnt-out house in the Nizhny Novgorod region and another victim has died in hospital in the Voronezh region, bringing the number of known deaths to 50.

With 162,000 emergency workers struggling to contain the blazes, Medvedev gave a warning to Russia's two highest naval commanders and sacked a number of high-ranking officers for failing to prevent flames spreading to a military base last week.

Fire destroyed large parts of the Kolomna naval logistics base, south-east of Moscow, including 13 warehouses full of aeronautical equipment and 17 storage areas housing vehicles.

The head of the Russian navy, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, and his deputy, Alexander Tatarinov, demonstrated "incomplete professional responsibility" in the incident, Medvedev said.

Other officials, including the navy's head of logistics Sergei Sergeyev and its head of aviation Nikolai Kuklev, have been dismissed, the president announced, while the investigative committee of prosecutors has opened a criminal inquiry into "major damage through negligence".

"If something similar happens in other places and departments, I will act in the same way, without any pity," Medvedev added.

Criticism of the government's handling of the fires has been growing, especially on the internet.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly recognised that one particularly angry blogger had a case, after Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy challenged him to respond to the online poster's concerns.

The anonymous blogger, who writes as top_lap, complained that his village near Moscow lacked basic fire safety precautions such as a functioning alarm bell or fire engine.

In an email reply, Putin expressed his sympathies but stressed that the government had never before had to face a heatwave like this summer's.

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