Russian Wildfires Consume Hundreds of Thousands of Acres
Russia declares state of emergency over wildfires
Death toll from blazes fueled by heat wave rises to 34
MSNBC.com, Aug. 2, 2010
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared a state of emergency on Monday in seven of Russia's 83 regions due to wildfires fueled by the worst heatwave in over a century, news agencies reported.
The death toll from the wildfires rose to 34 people on Monday and Moscow was shrouded in a new blanket of pungent haze from nearby peat bog fires.
Still, firefighters reported making some headway against the blazes that have destroyed hundreds of homes, burned through vast sections of tinder-dry land and forced thousands to evacuate.
Vladimir Stepanov, head of Russia's Emergencies Ministry's crisis center, said about 500 new wildfires were sparked nationwide in the past 24 hours but most of them were immediately doused.
"Most importantly, the mission we are tasked with — to avert the spread of fires to population centers, and to avoid more death — is being accomplished," Stepanov said in televised comments.
Even so, Russians remained wary, as a lull in the most intense heat wave since the country began keeping records 130 years ago appeared to be ending. Experts predicted a new week of temperatures hitting 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Muscovites awoke Monday to a sharp burning smell from the smoldering peat bogs south and east of the capital, haze that has increased the city's already-high pollution readings.
Wildfires were still burning across 309,000 acres, mostly in central and western Russia, slightly less than the area torched over the weekend, Stepanov said.
About 1,500 homes have been wiped out by fires, spurred by the heat wave that has dried forests and fields to a crisp.
'Nobody helped us'
Russian news reports said the bodies of two children, aged 7 and 9, were found Monday in a village outside Moscow that had been destroyed by fire. It was not yet clear if they were included in the death toll of 34.
In the half-destroyed village of Maslovka near Voronezh, emergency officials handed out food and clothing to residents as the heavy smoke and smog cleared. In the nearby village of Shuberovskoye, which also had been decimated by fire, locals complained that they were abandoned by firefighters.
"Nobody came to us and nobody helped us," said Anna Izmakina, 79. "We called by phone several times, trying to call firefighters — they set off, but never arrived."
She said she managed to salvage a few possessions before fire engulfed her home.
Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu urged Russians vacationing in rural areas to be especially vigilant about disposing of flammable materials, since barbecues are a popular activity.
Russian news agencies reported that some of those rendered homeless by the blazes received the first part of a 200,000-ruble compensation package ($6,600) promised on Friday by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.