News / Europe

Russia Wildfires Rage Amid Record Heat

Week-long fire epidemic has caused at least 40 deaths, 2,000 burned homes and about 100,000 evacuations

James Brooke

The hottest summer on record has dried out Russia, causing drought and wildfires, without any end in sight.

After a month of baking hot temperatures, wildfires are exploding across Russia at the rate of 300 a day, emergency officials said Tuesday.

While officials say they doused most fires within hours, the week-long fire epidemic is taking its toll: at least 40 dead, 2,000 homes burned, and about 100,000 people evacuated.  Fifty peat bog fires now ring Moscow, infiltrating a gray haze through the onion domes of the Kremlin and the glass towers of the financial district.

Things could get worse

Now, weather forecasters say it could get worse.

After enduring the hottest July since record keeping started in the czarist era, Moscow residents face a week of temperatures forecast to hit 38 C daily through Saturday.

Zinaida Esipova is a retiree from Lipetskaya Oblast.

She says she placed icons around the ashes of her village and then told a reporter from Russia's First Channel how scared she was when flames came from all sides, burning 11 houses

Although all the villagers survived, shifting winds are turning firefighting battles into wars.

Protecting Sarov

On Tuesday, Sergei Kiriyenko, Russia's nuclear chief, flew to the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in Sarov, about 500 kilometers east of Moscow.  On Monday, flames spread to the fences of Sarov, a closed city where Russia's nuclear bombs are developed.  On Tuesday, water tanker planes and hundreds of firefighters fought to protect Sarov, sister city of Los Alamos, New Mexico, home of the U.S. nuclear weapons design laboratory.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Medvedev on Tuesday that the situation at Sarov is 'quite complex'.  He told the president that 155,000 emergency personnel are fighting fires around the nation, but several are "out of control."

Last Thursday, flames roared through a Navy supply base 100 kilometers east of Moscow.  In response, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered soldiers to dig trenches and fell trees to create fire breaks around military bases and nuclear plants.

Shirtsleeves tour

With state television crews in tow, the prime minister has toured burned out villages and lectured regional officials.  After meeting villagers grieving in front of their destroyed houses, Mr. Putin promised on camera that the government would spend $200 million to rebuild all damaged houses before Russia's notorious winter descends in November.

Mr. Putin's highly visible, shirtsleeves tour is seen by many analysts as yet another indication that he plans to run for a third term as president in elections 18 months from now.  By contrast, President Medvedev, his protégé, has stayed deskbound in the Kremlin, essentially lecturing Russians not to play with matches.

In a nationwide address Monday night, Russia's president said: "With the cities sweltering in this stifling heat, of course, we want to get out and escape into nature.  But here, we have to be extremely attentive, extremely careful, because even a single match left burning could spark an irreparable tragedy."

State of emergency

The president also declared a state of emergency in seven regions.  Parks and forest will be closed to picnickers in an effort to minimize wildfires from runaway campfires and barbecues.

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, made a nationwide appeal for the faithful -in his words- "to unite in one prayer to God that he send rains to our scorched soil."

But even if rains were to come this weekend, it would be too late for much of the nation's grain crop.

Agricultural fears

On Tuesday, Alexander Belyayev, Russia's deputy agriculture minister, estimated that drought will cut Russia's grain harvest by about 25 percent compared to last year.  On Monday, the Russian Grain Union, a farm group, estimated that grain exports could drop by half this year.

Russia is the world's third largest wheat exporter and fears about the crop shortfall have sent world wheat prices up almost 50 percent since early June.

You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Freedom of Press

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs