July 16, 2008

Russian Altai Republic Hit By Fires

The Altai Republic on the southern border of Russia in Central Asia has been hit by at least 158 wildfires this year, officials said.

At least three fires were reported to be burning Wednesday in the taiga or coniferous forest, Itar-Tass reported.

Last year, there were only 126 fires in 12 months. So far this year, about 8,600 acres have been consumed by fire.

About half the fires reported in July were caused by lightning strikes, while the other half are believed to have been deliberately or accidentally started by people. Five criminal cases involving fire have been started, Itar-Tass said.

The republic, known for its high mountains and many rivers and lakes, is where the Siberian taiga meets the deserts of Mongolia and steppes of Kazakhstan. At least two-thirds of the burned area this year has been forest.

The federal government has appropriated $326,000 to assist the republic in fighting the fires.