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.

The region's leader, Viktor Zimin, put the initial cost of the damage caused by the wildfires at around US$96 million (S$132 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 criticised 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.