News / Europe

Wildfires Continue to Rage Across Russia

Wildfires are raging across Russia as the country experiences the hottest temperatures on record. Russia's Emergency Ministry officials say 52 people are dead, thousands of homes have been destroyed and crops across the country have been devastated. The Russian government has admitted that it can't get some of the blazes under control, as ordinary citizens are trying to save their property and belongings.

Her face covered in soot, her clothes filthy and her hair slicked back from sweat, Anya Kirilova appears sad and exhausted as she looks out across her family's property as fires blaze about 91 meters away.

The only thing that separates her family's summer home from the flames, is a less than one-meter wide trench she and her father dug themselves.

The young woman's eyes water from the smoke as she describes her family's ordeal to try and get the fire department to come and help save what she calls an eight-year labor of love.

"We couldn't even reach them by the phone. Not the forest government company, not the fire company. They just didn't answer the phone. We called them 10 times, every half an hour. Then they just said they couldn't do anything. We have only two cars, bla, bla, bla," she said.

The family's dacha is near Pavlovo Pasad, in the Moscow region, just 68 kilometers away from Russia's capital.

Valarey Gevardarsky is with the 110th fire brigade. He says he understands Kirilova's frustration, but he's in charge of seven other regions and he's got outdated equipment. He says he only has four trucks and only two hold water. Making matters even more difficult, he says the trucks must drive to a well in order to get water.

He says the well is more than three kilometers away, there is nothing closer. He says the trucks have to spit out the water, and then go back and refuel, making putting out the fires even more difficult.

Gevardarsky also says Russia doesn't have enough qualified firefighters to even begin to tackle some 300 fires that have been sprouting up daily across the country,  since the blazes began.

He says, if we had more people, we'd get better results. He says his department has been rounding up about 10 workers a day, and that's just not enough to help.

The latest government statistics show that Russia only has some 10,000 firefighters. As a result, the Kremlin has recruited hundreds of thousands of untrained volunteers to help battle the blazes.

Valery Tarasav is one of them. He's wearing shorts, no shirt and flip-flops. Smoking a cigarette, he throws a bucket of water on one of the fires that is quickly encroaching on a home in Kirilova's neighborhood.

"I'm not here to think. I'm just here to do," he said. "Our president has asked for our help in protecting what's ours and that's why he's here, to protect his family."

Meanwhile, for the first time since the blazes began, Russian authorities are now admitting that they can't get the fires under control.

Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu stopped short of admitting that the country lacked the proper equipment, infrastructure and manpower to combat the blazes, saying only that Russia will buy more equipment for the future.

He says the Kremlin will buy eight planes over the next two years, in addition to helicopters. He says squadrons will also be created across the country, so that things like this don't happen in the future.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has also urged Shoigu to create a separate program to finance technical equipment for all firefighters, saying that because the climate is changing, Russia may need more technical assistance in the future.

Back in Pavlovo Pasad, Anya Kirilova says the promise of equipment to stop future forest fires does her no good, because right now, she needs a system that works.

"In the United States, when I was there, I lived in some dormitory.  Some guys tried to cook popcorn in microwave; smoke indicators reacted and fire machines came in five minutes. They told us to leave the building. They did everything, they checked everything. I felt safe even though it's not even my country. Our country's government, it's not their forest. They don't care," she said.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently criticized authorities for not doing more to stop the damage and promised to fire anyone who didn't do their part to combat the blazes.

Forecasters say temperatures are expected to remain near 40 degrees Celsius for at least the next week, with no rain in sight.

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