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Russian president fires naval officials after blaze at naval facility

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Medvedev fires naval officials for not stopping fires near key facility
  • Prime Minister Putin visits the area hard hit by fires
  • Heat and drought have made Russia vulnerable to wildfires

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reprimanded the commander of the naval forces and his first deputy for incompetence Wednesday and fired a number of senior Defense Ministry officials over a fire at a naval base near Moscow, according to the president's website.

Medvedev held a meeting to draft and approve additional fire safety measures for strategic facilities Wednesday. And, according to the notice on the presidential site, he gave the government two days to draw up a new list of potentially dangerous sites.

The Interfax news agency reported government investigators were looking into the circumstances surrounding a large fire at a naval storage base in the Moscow area.

CNN iReport: Thick, choking smoke clogs Moscow

The sacked officials apparently broke unspecified rules that allowed a wildfire in the area to spread to the facility and cause extensive damage, reported CNN's Matthew Chance.

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Tens of thousands of firefighters are continuing to battle the series of wildfires that have claimed the lives of 48 people, the nation's Emergency Situations Ministry said Wednesday.

But the overall fire situation might be improving. On Wednesday, a total of 246 fires were burning, down from about 1,200 over the weekend.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with Russian and Ukrainian firefighters in Voronezh on Wednesday. He also visited a hospital that was saved from the fire as well as a temporary shelter for people left homeless by the blazes, according to his official website.

During an earlier visit to Nizhny Novgorod, Putin called on local officials to step down because they had been accused of a "chaotic and uncoordinated" response to the fires.

Putin has said the families of those who died in the wildfires would each receive 1 million rubles ($33,000) in compensation. He also said the government would allocate around 3 million rubles ($100,000) to rebuild the destroyed homes.

Earlier this week, Russian authorities imposed a state of emergency for about 500 towns and villages because of the wildfires burning across the west of the country.

The most serious situation was on the outskirts of the town of Sarov in the Nizhny Novgorod region.

Most of the fires -- among the worst ever to hit the region -- were started accidentally by people burning garbage, dropping cigarettes, or failing to extinguish campfires or barbecues properly, Emergency Situations Ministry representative Irina Andrianova said earlier.

About 115,000 hectares, or nearly 450 square miles, have burned, she said. A hectare is about the size of a baseball field or an international rugby pitch.

Heat and drought have made Russia especially susceptible to wildfires, officials have said. High temperatures are expected to continue through the middle of August, with no rain in the forecast.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance contributed to this report