The death toll rose to 21 in a series of fires raging in Russia’s Urals region on Tuesday, some resulting from suspected arson, and medical officials warned the tally was likely to increase, state news agency TASS said.
The emergencies ministry in Kurgan region near the border with Kazakhstan said 46 suspects had been identified and seven criminal cases had been initiated against alleged arsonists.
Some of the suspects were minors, it said. The motives of the suspected arsonists were not clear.
Wildfires in Russia
Wildfires have long plagued Russia’s forests and steppes during hotter months, but have grown in intensity in recent years. 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 neighboring Tyumen regions. Russian Emergencies Minister Alexander Kurenkov flew to Kurgan on Monday as the blazes continued to spread.
Speaking on state TV about efforts to contain them, Kurenkov said on Tuesday: "I think today we will manage this."
Video footage from the region showed firefighters training their hoses on burning fields, and a plane scooping up water from a reservoir and releasing it over the fire.
Evacuations of residents are underway and hundreds of homes have been razed, officials said.
Vadim Shumkov, governor of Kurgan region, announced on his Telegram channel he was canceling 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.