April 13, 2015 / 8:29 AM / in 3 years

Wildfires kill 23 in Russia's Siberia

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Wildfires in the Russian region of Khakassia in southern Siberia have killed 23 people, the Investigative Committee, a state body that reports directly to President Vladimir Putin, said on Monday.

Firefighters work amidst the debris of a burnt building in the settlement of Shyra, damaged by recent wildfires, in Khakassia region, April 13, 2015. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

The region’s leader, Viktor Zimin, put the initial cost of the damage caused by the wildfires at around $96 million.

A local healthcare ministry official said more than 900 people had asked for medical help and about 100 had been taken to hospital, TASS news agency reported, as fires raged across grasslands in dry and windy weather over several days.

A primary school, other public infrastructure and private homes have been damaged or destroyed and some cattle have been killed, Zimin said.

Wildfires in Russia often start when locals set grass on fire on rolling fields to clean them up after the winter, a widespread practice criticized by environmentalists as well as state officials.

Wildfires in the hot summer of 2010 caused dozens of deaths in Russia. Some scientists and environmentalists suggest the number of indirect deaths caused by the heat wave and wildfires of five years ago may have been much higher.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Vladimir Soldatkin, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Gareth Jones

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