Nine people have been killed and 14 others injured in forest fires near the front line with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, according to a new death toll announced Thursday by the Kiev authorities.
“Nine people perished” and “fourteen others were hospitalized,” the state emergency service said in a statement. The previous record reported eight dead and ten injured.
Driven by “extremely difficult” weather conditions – dry weather and gusts of wind – nearly 150 fires broke out on Wednesday in the Lugansk region, devastating a total of more than 11,000 hectares, the service said.
Almost 120 fires were extinguished, but nearly 1,500 firefighters, rescuers, soldiers and police continued to fight against the flames Thursday afternoon, according to the same source.
Three water bomber planes and a helicopter were deployed on site. The fires damaged some 250 houses in eight towns and 120 people had to be evacuated.
The Ukrainian authorities have also closed the only crossing point between the separatist territories and the zone controlled by Kiev in the Lugansk region, the fire having caused the detonation of mines around this site, announced the local administration on Facebook.
Soon after, the fire reached the crossing point, named Stanytsia Luganska, from which most of the personnel were evacuated, border guards added. The latter published a video in which we could see flames ravaging these infrastructures.
“We expect the situation to be difficult for at least another 24 hours” due to the lack of rain and strong winds, the state emergency service added.
Ukraine has been affected this year by several heat waves and drought, which may have favored these fires or made them more difficult to control.
In September, fires killed a soldier in the Lugansk region. Two months earlier, in the same area, five people were killed and around 30 others were injured in massive forest fires.
Scientific models predict that changes in the climate will lead to heat waves and storms, as well as ever more frequent natural fires.