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

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    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.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora