President Declares June 12 as Day of Mourning for Forest Fires Victims in Abai Region

ASTANA – President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared June 12 as the day of national mourning to honor forest workers who lost their lives while trying to extinguish wildfires in the Abai Region in eastern Kazakhstan, reported the Akorda press service.

Fire extinguishing in the Abai Region continues. Photo credit: Akorda. Click to see the map in full size. The map is designed by The Astana Times.

According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations, 14 people died in the fire that broke out in the Batpayev forestry in the Abai Region on June 8. The area engulfed in flames quickly spread from the initial 2,000 hectares to 60,000 hectares. 

As of June 12, efforts to put out the fire are ongoing, involving 14 helicopters, approximately 1,500 people, and more than 300 equipment units of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, local executive bodies, and the Ministry of Defense.

Since the fire outbreak, over 2,000 tons of water has been discharged 777 times.

People in nearby settlements have been evacuated to the village of Borodulikha and the city of Semei.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev expresses condolences to the families of the forest fires victims. Photo credit: Akorda.

The President canceled his visit to Vietnam and arrived in the Abai Region for an emergency meeting on June 11, flying over the territories affected by the fire.

He met with families and relatives of the forestry workers that died as a result of the fire to express his condolences and pledge comprehensive support.

“The General Prosecutor’s Office will investigate this tragedy. Those responsible will be held accountable,” he promised.

Following a minute of silence at the emergency meeting, the President criticized the state bodies who were responsible for the situation that was “professionally neglected.”

“Even though the required instructions were provided, last year’s lessons were not learned [referring to the massive forest fires in Amankaragai district in northern Kazakhstan in September.] It is clear that the threat was underestimated. The forecast was inaccurate,” he said.

The President holds an emergency meeting to formulate a response to the disaster. Photo credit: Akorda.

The President dismissed Yuriy Ilyin as the Minister of Emergency Situations, appointing Syrym Sharipkhanov as the new minister, and reprimanded the region’s akim (governor) Nurlan Urankhayev for failing to promptly respond to the disaster.

Tokayev instructed the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources and other state bodies to take measures to implement a digital system for the early detection of fires.

“Wildfires are raging worldwide, and we have to be able to fight them, especially when it comes to forests,” the President noted, adding that there are no more than 4% of forest plantations in the country.

Referring to last year’s forest fires in the Kostanai Region, Tokayev stressed the “low degree of preparedness,” assigning the government to bring it to the level of effective emergency response.

“The summer period has just begun, and a similar threat may arise again,” he warned.

The President posthumously awarded 14 forest workers for their courage and dedication while performing their duties.

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