KYIV (Reuters) - Nine people were killed and 14 have been hospitalised as a series of forest fires swept through part of the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk, the emergency service said on Thursday.
The fires, assisted by strong wind, threatened 31 settlements and engulfed an area of about 11,000 hectares (42.5 square miles), the service said in a statement, adding that 120 people had been evacuated.
Authorities said there were a total of 146 fires and most of them had been extinguished. Local agencies reported that at least 250 houses were damaged by fire.
Ukrainian officials have said the fires may have been caused by shelling from a nearby area that is controlled by pro-Russian separatists, a crossing point to which was closed due to the fire.
The office of Ukraine’s president called on law enforcement bodies to find the cause of the fires, saying: “The reasons for such a large-scale spread of fire must be clearly established.”
“We also take into account the information about provocative shelling that could have been carried out from the temporarily occupied territory ... and could have caused at least some of these fires in such weather conditions,” it said in a statement.
Last month the Ukrainian military accused pro-Russian separatists of violating a ceasefire with government forces.
The simmering conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. Major combat ended with a truce agreed in the Belarus capital Minsk in 2015, but sporadic clashes still regularly kill civilians, Ukrainian soldiers and separatists.
Earlier this year, one person died and nine were hospitalised in a similar forest fire that swept through the Luhansk region, destroying 80 dacha holiday cottages and 30 houses in two villages.
This spring, forest fires around the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant in the north of the country and elsewhere pushed pollution levels in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv to the worst in the world.
Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Catherine Evans and Lisa Shumaker
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