Wildfires ravage Central Russia

Intense temperatures and the worst dry spell for generations continue to pound parts of Russia, with 40 lives now claimed by fires, over 300 injured, and thousands left homeless.

Seven of the hardest-hit regions are now in a state of emergency. One of them is the greater Moscow area, where the air is thick with smoke. The smog is so dense that it resembles fog and makes it difficult to breathe.

Dmitry Medvedev, who is currently in Sochi, visited the fire station built especially for the 2014 Olympics. Emergency Minister Sergey Shoigu gave the president a tour of the station and showed him some state of the art fire engines.

At a working meeting, Dmitry Medvedev urged Shoigu to deliberate a separate program on the technical equipment and financing of the firefighting service.

“Taking into account how the situation is unfolding this summer, we can’t know what will happen next year or in a year. The climate is changing. In this respect, we should reserve separate financing for this,” said Medvedev.

The Russian president also expressed gratitude to foreign partners who have offered help in fighting the fires. In particular, Ukraine and Azerbaijan have offered the use of their aircraft in the firefighting efforts.

“Of course we are thankful for all the aid our partners have offered. We appreciate this, especially taking into account the difficult situation we are currently in,” said the president.

Earlier President Dmitry Medvedev has assured that the government is doing everything within its powers to extinguish the fires.

“The situation remains very difficult, the heat is still here, and the forecasts are bleak. Therefore, the threat of new fires persists,”Medvedev warned.

“I have signed a decree today announcing the emergency situation in a number of regions of our country which are hardest hit by the fires. But much will depend on our actions,” he said.

“It’s difficult to stay in the city [of Moscow]; it’s stuffy and very hot. People want to escape to the countryside. That is where we should be very careful and cautious. We must remember that one dropped match could result in disaster. The government understands its unconditional responsibility. Our main task today is to help the victims to get back to their normal lives as soon as possible,” the president appealed.

More than 250,000 people are involved in the effort of extinguishing fires, including fire brigades, Emergency ministry specialists, the military and volunteers who have stepped in.

This summer has been the hottest one in the history of meteorological records. All the vegetation in Central Russia is dried out, making the region one big tinderbox. Despite all the warnings and efforts made, the new fires occur every day – all of them man-made.

The air in the Russian capital now is seven times more polluted than usual due to the smog caused by the forest and peat bog fires. Doctors say breathing this air is equivalent to smoking cigarettes heavily all day long. Some people are wearing gauze face veils. Those who have lung and heart diseases are recommended to stay at home.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has already accounted for allocating money to every family that lost their homes and to those who lost their relatives in fires. The money will be handed over by next week. An initial payment has already been given to those in need.

There are reports that some people are taking advantage of the situation, by setting fire to their homes in order to get new houses as a result. Some acts of looting have also been reported.

Unfortunately, the weather forecasts are not very optimistic. There will probably be some short spells of rain this week, but meteorologists say the temperatures may rise as high as 40ºC – something completely unprecedented for Moscow.