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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Forest Blaze Kills 3 on Sakhalin

At least three people have died in forest fires that have raged for nearly a week on the Pacific Ocean island of Sakhalin, the Emergency Situations Ministry said Thursday.

The fires have destroyed more than 25,000 hectares of woodland, mainly in the northern part of the oil-rich island, and more than 600 people have been evacuated, a spokeswoman for the ministry in Moscow said.

Thursday's edition of the Kommersant newspaper quoted local officials as saying more than 100,000 people might have to be evacuated to the mainland if the fires continue unchecked.

Officials say a lack of funds for fuel and firefighting equipment is severely hampering efforts to extinguish the fires.

The ministry spokeswoman said around 60 separate fires were burning on Sakhalin and that dense smoke was frustrating the firefighting operation.

Russian television said about 1,000 firefighters were tackling the blazes on the large island, which lies to the north of Japan and is eight time zones ahead of Moscow.

More than 100 fires were also raging in the Khabarovsk district on the mainland of Russia's Far East region, but the ministry said it knew of no casualties there.

Fires break out in Russia's vast forests most years. Officials on Sakhalin have blamed the latest blazes on unusually dry conditions.

Interfax news agency said fires had destroyed a total of 1.8 million hectares in Russia this year, 70 percent of them on Sakhalin or in Khabarovsk district f a figure three times higher than in 1997.

It put the cost of the damage at around 4 billion rubles ($256 million at Friday's official rate).

Kommersant said Sakhalin's governor, Igor Farkhutdinov, and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu would shortly discuss the situation with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.