Four die as fires rage in swaths of Russia’s Urals

This file photo shows fire spreads along a country road in Gouveia, in the Serra da Estrela mountain range, in Portugal on August 18, 2022. (PHOTO / AP)

Raging fires have consumed swaths of Russia's Urals mountains, killing at least four people, razing hundreds of homes, forcing evacuations and spurring investigations, officials said on Sunday.

Wildfires are common in late spring and summer across Russia's vast forests and grassy steppes, but some recent blazes have fanned suspicions of negligence.

The fires spread to some settlements in the southern region of Kurgan, prompting a visit by Alexander Kurenkov, the emergency minister, early on Monday.

"A difficult situation has developed," Kurenkov said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

Regional investigative authorities have begun a criminal inquiry into a large fire that killed three people on Sunday and destroyed a number of homes and businesses.

"The spread of the fire became possible due to potential negligence on the part of responsible officials," the Kurgan investigative authorities said in a website statement.

Nine of the 13 wildfires in the region were contained, however, the TASS state news agency said. Massive fires have also engulfed the Sverdlovsk region and the Tyumen region to its south, in the Urals.

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A gunpowder depot fire that forced the evacuation of a small village in the Sverdlovsk region was contained by Sunday evening.

But 53 further fires still blaze, regional emergency authorities said. On Monday, TASS said more than 54,000 hectares (209 sq miles) of forests were burning in the Sverdlovsk region, with about 4,800 responders attempting to douse the flames.

Independent news site SOTA blamed explosions and arson for some of the fires. Reuters was not able to independently verify the report.

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At the end of April, a fire of unknown origin killed one and left hundreds in the area homeless.

A resident of the Tyumen region, where there are 23 blazes, died while trying to extinguish a fire in the village of Krasny Yar and two people were injured, TASS said, citing regional officials.

Earlier, it said more than 120 buildings were destroyed in two small regional villages on Sunday.