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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs