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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

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.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid