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At least eight people died in Siberia on Saturday as fires ripped through hundreds of buildings in several villages, with high winds hampering efforts to extinguish the blazes.
In the Krasnoyarsk region, about 3,000 km (1,900 miles) east of Moscow, fires killed five people in 16 settlements across the Kazachinskoe and Sharypovsky districts, the local branch of Russia's Investigative Committee said in a statement, leading it to launch criminal proceedings for causing death by negligence.
The local health ministry said 17 people had been hurt, with 11 of them taken to hospital, the TASS news agency reported. The Federal Forestry Agency said short circuits in power lines had caused 350 houses to catch fire, and that strong winds had exacerbated the situation, TASS said. "Aircraft cannot be used in fighting the fires due to the high wind load," Krasnoyarsk's emergencies service said on its Telegram channel.
It posted video footage showing the sky darkened by smoke, with rescue workers buffeted by strong gusts as they tackled a number of blazes in rural areas with predominantly wooden buildings. Russia's Aerial Forest Protection Service later published footage of fires in wooded areas, all of which it said were quickly contained.
The Investigative Committee also reported fires in the neighbouring Khakassia region. Slightly further west, investigators in the Kemerovo region also launched criminal proceedings and said the burnt bodies of three people had been found in a residential building in the Tyazhinsky locality, where more than 50 houses had caught fire. Both sets of investigators said work was continuing to determine the cause of the fires.
Earlier in the day, the fires in the Krasnoyarsk region spread to some sawmills and a children's playground, the regional ministry for emergencies said on Telegram. Regional governor Alexandre Uss said high winds of up to 40 metres per second, had brought down trees and power lines across large swathes of the region, sparking the fires which authorities said 300 firemen backed by 90 vehicles were fighting.
"We have called for help from neighbouring territories but are aware that will in the best case not arrive for some hours," said Uss, adding temporary shelters were being opened for people in the worst-hit areas with medical and psychological support units also being made available. "I have given the order to cut off electricity in part of the region — save for survival facilities, service stations and water supply systems," he said.
"Extinguishing (the fires) is being complicated by meteorological conditions — violent winds are fanning the flames and preventing them from being put out," the ministry stated.
Siberia has suffered from large scale fires for some years. Last year, they belched 16 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere, according to an annual European climate report.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)