News / Europe

Russian Wildfires Shrink, While Temperatures Cool in Moscow

Russian officials say firefighters have had success containing wildfires throughout the country, while a cold front is poised to end Moscow's record-breaking heat wave.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said Monday that the fires are burning on 45,800 hectares of rural land nationwide, compared with 53,000 hectares on Sunday. Around 500 active fires are still burning across rural land.

Authorities say fires that burned forests around a key nuclear weapons facility at Sarov east of Moscow are now under control.

Weather forecasters say a cold front is advancing toward the Russian capital, with temperatures expected to reach between 21 and 25 degrees Celsius Monday.

For more than a month, Moscow's temperatures have approached and sometimes surpassed 40 degrees, while thick smog from the wildfires blanketed the city.

The official death toll from the fires stands at 52. But Moscow officials said early last week the daily death rate in the capital had doubled during the fires and heat from a norm of 350 to about 700 deaths a day.

A Russian ban on grain exports came into force Sunday, as the government battles to control domestic food prices during the worst drought to hit the country in more than a century.

The ban was announced last week by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who said the 2010 grain yield could be as low as 60 million tons because of drought, wildfires and record heat. The country's 2009 yield was 97 million tons.

The export ban, set to extend to December 31, sent global wheat prices soaring to a two-year high and sparked concern that the crisis could destabilize food prices in Europe and the Middle East.

Russia, the world's third largest wheat grower, produces a type of wheat used in unleavened bread, so much of its wheat is exported to Egypt, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

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