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Moscow hazed by peatland fires

Air quality in Moscow is rapidly deteriorating. Russia's Health Ministry says smoke from wildfires is being blown across Moscow, raising the quantity of harmful particles in the air to more than three times above normal.

Hot weather, ice cream and – smog, these are the three ingredients of a Moscow summer. Visibility is reduced, and the air is acrid. But the cause of this yearly phenomenon lies far from the city itself as there are peatland fires around Moscow.

Peat is highly flammable and can burn 15 meters underneath the ground. Dozens of these fires have not been put out in the Moscow region. As the fire services struggle to localise and then extinguish the smouldering wildfires, the blame for why they start can be attributed to several sources.

The swamps around Moscow were drained early last century. It dried out the peat bogs, which burn easily and often undetected, as well as being hard to reach by the firemen. But in the end, it is people who provide the spark.

“The main reason behind this is the human factor. It is berry and mushroom pickers, the game hunters and tourists who cause this,” Grigory Kaverzov, forester, noted.

The increased air pollution poses is a danger to health, particularly affecting the young, the elderly, and those with respiratory diseases. People say that they have to keep the doors and windows shut to prevent the smell getting in. Many are suffering from headaches and have no energy.

Peatland fires of five years ago caused Moscow to be enveloped in a thick smoke for weeks. Dozens of people are estimated to have died, whilst thousands had to get medical treatment. No one knows whether this year will see a repeat of 2002, but environmentalists are saying that the long-term prospects are bleak.

“This will occur more and more frequently because it is not a local event; it is a general trend of global warming. It will increase until globally, greenhouse gas emissions are reuced,” Aleksey Kokorin from the World Wildlife Fund comments.

So far, only small isolated fires have been reported in the vicinity of Moscow itself. But little rainfall is forecast, and temperatures are set to remain high well into next week.

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