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President Tokayev Declares National Mourning for Forest Workers Killed in Abai Region Wildfires

By Vusala Abbasova June 13, 2023


Preliminary findings suggest that the fire originated from a lightning strike on Thursday, rapidly spreading due to strong winds. / AFP

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has declared June 12 as a day of national mourning in honor of the forest workers who tragically lost their lives while battling the devastating wildfires that swept through the Abai Region in eastern Kazakhstan.

In a swift response to the crisis, President Tokayev canceled his scheduled visit to Vietnam and promptly arrived in the Abai Region on Sunday. During his visit, he extended his heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims.

“This is a great tragedy for the entire nation,” Tokayev said. “Be strong in this hard moment. I share your grief of loss.”

President Tokayev assured the nation that the General Prosecutor’s Office would conduct a thorough investigation into the tragedy, holding those responsible accountable for their actions.

A criminal case has been initiated on behalf of the head of state regarding the forest fire in the Abay region. The investigation is currently underway, focusing on two articles: “Violation of fire safety requirements resulting in the death of two or more persons due to negligence” and negligence itself.

To ensure a comprehensive investigation, an interdepartmental investigative-operational group, consisting of experienced personnel from law enforcement and special agencies, has been formed. The actions of responsible officials will be subject to a meticulous legal assessment as part of this process.

A statement released on the president’s official website confirmed the occurrence of a devastating fire in the Batpayev forestry of the Abai Region on June 8, claiming the lives of 14 individuals –marking the highest death toll from such incidents in recent years in the country.

The victims were employees of the Semey Ormany Nature Reserve, with ages ranging from 25 to 63 years old.

Preliminary findings suggest that the fire originated from a lightning strike on Thursday, rapidly spreading due to strong winds. The initial blaze ignited across 2,000 hectares of land but swiftly escalated, engulfing an astounding 60,000 hectares.

Efforts to extinguish the fire are currently ongoing, as confirmed by the Ministry of Emergency Situations, which reported the evacuation of 316 individuals. The firefighting operation involves the coordinated efforts of 14 helicopters, approximately 1,500 personnel, and over 300 equipment units contributed by the Ministry of Emergency Situations, local executive bodies, and the Ministry of Defense.

On Friday, Yury Ilyin was dismissed from his position as the head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and Syrym Sharipkhanov was appointed as his successor to address the crisis and oversee the ongoing response efforts.