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Deadly wildfires sweep through Siberia grasslands

At least two have died as wildfires raged though the grasslands of Russia's Khakassia republic in southern Siberia, state media reported. Officials were cited as saying more than 20 villages and towns had been damaged.

Russia's Emergency Ministry said a plane had been deployed as well as three fire trains and more than 5,000 people in an effort to control the fire.

However, it said strong winds were hampering the operation. The RIA Novosti news agency said fire crews were also struggling with a water shortage because reservoirs were still covered with ice.

The provisional death toll was given as two, although a figure of four was also reported.

The regional government called for volunteers to help put out the fire, which on Sunday destroyed 118 homes in 21 towns and villages. A statement urged "residents of the region to battle the fire, which began because of residents themselves after uncontrolled grass burning."

The fires, which come at a time of dry and windy weather, have been burning for several days, the Emergency Ministry said. Seventy-three people were said to have suffered burns or smoke inhalation.

Wildfires in Russia in 2010 killed at least 60 people, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and left Moscow shrouded in smoke. In 2012, blazes destroyed some 10 million hectares of Siberian forest, environmental groups claimed.

rc/pfd (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)