Wildfires in Russia cover Moscow in smoke

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Massive wildfires in western and central Russia have killed at least 52 people and blanketed Moscow in dense smoke and smog. According to BBC News, around 560 fires were still burning on Friday.

More than 800 wildfires have been reported this week in Russia, which is currently suffering from the worst heat since records began over 130 years ago. Since June, temperatures in the country have been rising, and Moscow was expected to reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.78 degrees Celsius) on Friday, about 25 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) above the normal temperature for this time of the year.

The environmental protection agency of Russia's capital has already stated that {w|carbon monoxide}} levels in the city's air were five times as high as safe levels and that particulate pollution levels were three times as high as safe levels.

The dense smoke also caused chaos at Moscow airports. Visibility at Domodedovo Airport was reportedly around 400 yards (365.76 metres) on Friday, and many flights were either delayed or arrived late.

At Russia's Alabinsk military base, located around 45 miles (72.42 kilometres) southwest of Moscow, artillery rockets were moved to a location where they would not be threatened by the fires, said Russia's Ministry of Defence. The fires also burned close to a nuclear missile warning site near Moscow, but a spokesperson for the Russian Space Forces said that the warning center's fire brigades had extinguished two fires in the area. Previously, materials from a nuclear research center in Sarov were moved out of the way of fires to avoid a possible explosion occurring.

Russian officials have received criticism over their handling of the blazes. Last week, Russia's president, Dmitri Medvedev, dismissed five military officers for letting a fire burn hangars at an air base near Moscow. One of Medvedev's aides said on Friday that mayors will be debriefed and that those who did not adequately respond to the wildfires "will be brought to justice." Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last week that local officials not dealing with the fires should resign.

The spree of wildfires has left at least 3,000 people without homes. Seven regions are now under a state of emergency, and 28 more are under a state of emergency for farmers with crops failing in the heat.

Fire crews from other nations in both Europe and Asia were arriving to help fight the fires, and a shelter was set up in Kaliningrad to support 150 children from central Russia who were displaced by the crisis.