A Russian state television reporter dropped a lit cigarette butt at the scene of raging wildfires in Siberia, sparking a fire in grass a few metres from a village, his channel said Thursday.
A local resident contacted police after seeing Channel One reporter Mikhail Akinchenko drop the butt, but denied the reporter had purposefully started the fire.
"We confirm that the incident with the lit cigarette took place. The TV crew committed negligence, for which the participants in the incident will be punished," Channel One's press service told RIA Novosti news agency.
"Channel One expresses regret at what happened."
Police questioned the reporter, who allegedly told them he wanted to "get a background shot," regional news agency Khakasia reported.
Channel One's spokeswoman Larisa Krymova told TASS agency that it was untrue that Akinchenko started the fire for the cameras, however.
The resident said the fire was quickly dealt with.
The reporter was covering President Vladimir Putin's visit to southern Siberia, where wildfires raging through the steppe have killed at least 34 people.
"Idiots, in a word! Of course he will be punished. You need to have a head on your shoulders, realise what you're doing," said Kirill Kleimenov, the head of Channel One's factual programming, to Russkaya Sluzhba Novostei radio station.
The incident came as top Russian officials including Putin's spokesman have accused local residents of starting the fires.
"The fact is that people themselves are setting off fires by burning grass and as we've seen, crazy people are setting the forest on fire for kicks," Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov said Monday.
Putin's representative in Siberia, Nikolai Rogozhkin, last week blamed the fires on specially trained "opposition" activists.
"Some opposition group has gathered... They received instructions and performed acts of sabotage by setting certain locations on fire," Rogozhkin was quoted as saying by local media.
Channel One has regularly faced accusations of airing faked or misleading footage, particularly in covering the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Last summer, it aired footage of a woman claiming Ukrainian troops had crucified a rebel's child, although this did not happen.
Fires have raged through thousands of square kilometres, up to Mongolia, 200 kilometres to the south and practically up to the Chinese border, according to the Russian section of Greenpeace.