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9 Aug, 2010 20:36

Wildfires rage on shrouding Moscow in blanket of smog

The thick blanket of acrid smog caused by relentless wildfires which has settled across the Russian capital has shown no sign of dispersing.

Forest and peat blazes continue to devastate large swathes of Central Russia, with a record-breaking heat wave forecast to go on until at least next week.

Russia's deadly wildfires, smog-filled cities and poor harvest are being seen by some environmentalists as signs of man-made climate change.

But astrophysicist and founder of the Weather Action Foundation Piers Corbyn puts the heat wave down to climate cycles.

“The climate has always been changing, but it has nothing to do with man,” Corbyn told RT. “In fact we predicted that there will be extreme heat in Russia and eastern Europe. It's caused by circulation patterns, caused by a combination of solar activity and the phases of the moon.”

In addition to over a hundred smaller fires burning across the country, eighty large ones have still not been extinguished. The toxic fumes released by the fires are carrying five times the acceptable amount of carbon monoxide.

On Monday, Aleksandr Frolov, head of the Russian state meteorological service, suggested yet another temperature record. He said that it is the hottest summer that Russia has seen in the last one thousand years.

“We have an ‘archive’ of dangerous weather conditions dating back to the last one thousand years,” Frolov said. “We can conclude that in regards to heat our country has not seen anything like this.”

Physicians have urged Muscovites to avoid leaving their homes. They warn that breathing the toxic air for just a couple of hours has the same harmful effect as smoking two packs of cigarettes.

“People need to stop exercising in the heat,” Vasily Vlasov, president of the Society for Evidence-Based Medicine, told RT. “They have to cover their windows from the sun, to ventilate them at nighttime and protect them in daytime. People need to drink simple water – enough, but not too much, because overload with water can be dangerous, especially for people with cardiovascular diseases.”

Scorched Earth

Swathes of Central Russia are still in flames, with firefighters tackling hundreds of new fires every day. It is thought that it will take another week before the scorching temperatures begin to drop.

Russia is in flames. The hottest summer on record has also become one of the most destructive. Massive forest fires have already burnt about a thousand hectares of land, killed more than 40 and left more than 2,000 homeless. With wind speed of 20 meters per second, it's moving too fast, leaving behind a trail of devastation.

Over 520 fires are estimated to be blazing across Russia.

A small picturesque village, nestled in a beautiful pine forest some 150 kilometers south of the Russian capital Moscow – a paradise to the 300 people that lived there, with a kindergarten, a church and a community hall – will never be the same again.

It took just minutes for a frightening display of mother nature's full force to change it forever. Twelve perished in the inferno, some in horrifying circumstances.

Panic has been spreading among people as fast as the flames have been engulfing their homes – five people, an old couple, a mother and a son and another woman, decided to hide in a basement. But their place of refuge became their tomb. Temperatures inside became too hot to survive.

Most people in the village managed to flee. Galina Mikhaleva was one of those that escaped. A day later she's back, hoping to find something intact, but it's all in vain.

“The flames were spreading up high, even above that tall tower, and the black smoke filled all the space below,” Galina said. “I felt really scared when I saw red fire glow and black smoke. You know, I’ve seen houses and barns burning. But here the entire village burned down completely. This was really horrifying.”

The dormitory of a local college has become a new home for dozens of homeless. It's stuffy and smoky in its corridors and rooms, but it's the only shelter they have now.

“We want to say thanks for all this care, they feed us here very well, they talk to us, and we have a corner to sleep!” said one of the survivors.

But they hope their stay here will not be long.

“We've already got about $70,000 in compensation each, pensioners and jobless, a bit more, but what we are especially waiting for, that's a new home, they've promised it for every family within the next three months,” said Alksandra, one of the survivors. “And we are ready to wait.”

When the houses are rebuilt, the victims of this unstoppable and merciless force will try to rebuild their lives and consign the ghost village to a past that all here would rather forget.