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5 Sep, 2010 08:58

Blazing nightmare: the 24 hours that turned people’s lives upside down

After a period of relative calm, Russia was hit by a new wave of wildfires. This time round, though, it took emergency crews only 24 hours to put out the blaze, but one single day still ruined the lives of many.

At least eight people were killed and dozens injured by flames in the Volgograd region this week. The fires destroyed hundreds of homes and nearly 1,000 people have been evacuated to shelters.

Nikolay Kononov from the village of Bundevka had spent years working to build and furnish his family's new home, but the fast-spreading wildfires mercilessly gutted it.

He said it happened so fast that there was not enough time to try to save his house or anything inside.

“I spent the night here on a hill, I could not bring myself to go far,” he said. “Everything has burned down, even my cow, the chickens and pigs and a dog. There is nothing left, not even a photo.”

Bundevka is one of dozens of villages to burn in southern Russia as fierce heat and drought stoked fires, and strong winds fanned flames from one home to another.

Days later there is still smoke and the stench of animals killed in the air. Witnesses said it took only moments to cause all the destruction.

Seventy-two houses are now mounds of smoldering rubble. Ludmila Zakurdayeva’s house miraculously escaped the damage.

“Everyone ran out of their houses as they were, the children were bundled into a little car and taken away,” she said. “Then we loaded up our car and went to the hills and from there we watched as everything was burning.”

Some of the homeless like Elena Tulupnikova and her family have found temporary shelter in a summer camp for kids. They are safe now, but their sense of security is gone.

Elena told RT that the fires not only destroyed their home but also killed two pets. Her daughter has not spoken since.

“We have no relatives, my relatives have died. I lived here with my daughter, she is 15. She can not go to school, we have no clothes, no books, no money to buy anything,” said Elena. “My husband is disabled; he is always sitting there in the car, does not want to go anywhere. We ran. Good people let us into the apartment to live temporarily.”

Extreme temperatures and strong winds are still posing a threat in affected regions.

The Emergencies Ministry promises to rebuild all of the damaged homes in southern Russia by December 3. It also vows to pay compensation to victims. This will come at a one billion rouble price tag, roughly $35 million.

Although this money cannot replace all the things lost, it can at least put a roof over people’s heads and give them new hope.