Mr Chaika reported on the preliminary results of prosecutors’ investigations into compliance with fire safety laws, carried out over June-August.
The investigations revealed more than 10,000 violations. One thousand officials will be liable for disciplinary sanctions, 600 suits for fire-related damages have been filed in the courts, 826 criminal cases have been initiated, and 2,000 warnings have been issued.
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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I have spoken with Minister Basargin [Regional Development Minister Viktor Basargin], who I dispatched to Volgograd Region and the neighbouring areas straight after the wildfires broke out there. He reported that, although this region has practically no forests, nothing had been done to create fire breaks between steppe area and populated settlements, and so the fires spread extremely rapidly. The municipal authorities bear responsibility for this situation.
It is true that the region has been hit by a heat wave and very strong winds, as I know, since I was in Saratov Region at that moment, but we nonetheless need to find out if all the necessary measures were taken to protect settlements from fires. This is absolutely essential in this situation. I want you to order the prosecutors in all of these counties to work together with the relevant Emergency Situations Ministry and fire service departments to make a thorough analysis of the situation with compliance with fire safety and prevention laws. The investigation must continue, of course. Are there any preliminary results yet?
Prosecutor General Yury Chaika: There are some preliminary results, Mr President. Three months ago, you gave the instruction to tighten supervision by the prosecutor’s office in this area. Over June-August, we carried out a large number of checks into compliance with fire safety and prevention laws, causes and conditions leading to fires, and fire-fighting measures.
You are entirely right in saying that the picture is bleak. We have revealed more than 10,000 violations. This has resulted in more than 2,000 reports, 1,000 officials facing disciplinary sanctions, 900 administrative cases opened, 600 suits for fire-related damages filed in the courts, 826 criminal cases opened, and 2,000 warnings issued. But unfortunately, it seems, this is all still not enough.
[Mr Chaika went on to brief the President on the main violations brought to light by the investigations. They included delays in detecting fires, ineffective decision-making by the local authorities, poor coordination between local government bodies and regional forest protection and fire prevention services, including the Interior Ministry bodies, and insufficient public information on fire safety issues.]
Judging by these latest events, the measures we have taken are clearly insufficient. We are therefore drafting a telegram on reinforced supervision by the prosecutors over the problems that exist today.
We will keep you informed of the results of all of these checks and also want to present a number of proposals that in our opinion would help to activate this work and reinforce compliance with fire safety laws.
Dmitry Medvedev: I hope that the prosecutors’ actions will serve as a wake-up call for the municipal authorities, and I said this to the Minister today, too. He said that people told him the fires had been smouldering for some time, and this is not forested land we are talking about. I realise that municipalities might not have enough fire-fighting equipment or whatever, but preparing the fire breaks that could have prevented fires from spreading was the municipal authorities’ direct responsibility. We need to get to the bottom of this situation.
The important thing now is not just to rebuild homes, which goes without saying, and is something we will do in this case, as in the other cases, in accordance with the decisions the Government took, acting on my instructions. But we also need to get to the bottom of the cases of gross negligence that have been revealed. One would have thought that the fires in August would have been enough to teach the municipal heads to rely on their own resources and also get other people involved if required. And so we need to draw the respective conclusions, encourage everyone to take action, and, following the investigations, make proposals to the regional authorities and the federal authorities too, if necessary, on holding officials responsible and relieving them of their duties or dismissing them for violations that contributed to the fires’ outbreak. We cannot allow such situations to continue.
I ask you therefore to get to the bottom of the situation and give the necessary direct instructions. Pay particular attention to the Volga Federal District and the southern regions. These are not forested parts of the country, but the regional and local authorities there have turned out very slow to react, unfortunately. We are still in September, which is quite a warm month, especially coming after the hot summer we had. So, sort out the situation and report back to me.