Russia’s wildfire death toll rises to 21 in Ural Mountains

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The death toll from wildfires in Russia’s Ural Mountains has risen to 21, Russian state news agency Tass reported, citing local emergency service agencies.

Wildfires have raged in the Kurgan region of the Urals and in Siberia all week. A resident of western Siberia’s Tyumen province died while attempting to extinguish a fire.

According to local authorities, most of the deaths occurred on Sunday in the Kurgan province village of Yuldus, which is on the border between the Ural Mountains and Siberia.

The death toll may increase, regional emergency service officials said.

A state of emergency was introduced in the province where more than 5,000 buildings have burned down. Fires have also engulfed thousands of acres in Sverdlovsk province, and in Siberia’s Omsk and Tyumen provinces.

During a visit on Monday to Kurgan province, Russia’s emergency situations minister said settlements were no longer at risk from the blazes, though local media reported on Tuesday that fires still burned there, as well as in Sverdlovsk and Tyumen.

In recent years, Russia has experienced especially widespread forest fires, which experts blamed on unusually dry summers and high temperatures.

The experts also cited a 2007 decision to disband a federal aviation network tasked with spotting and combatting fires. Its assets were turned over to regional authorities, leading to the force’s rapid decline and attracting much criticism.

The government later reversed the move and re-established the federal agency in charge of monitoring forests from the air. However, its resources remain limited, making it hard to survey the massive forests of Siberia and the Far East.

President Vladimir Putin urged authorities a year ago on Tuesday to take stronger action to prevent wildfires and increase coordination between various official agencies in dealing with them.

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