Russian wildfires kill 34 in heatwave

In Asia, Drought & Fires, News Headlines

President declares state of emergency in seven regions after whole settlements engulfed by flames.

The death toll from hundreds of wildfires across Russia rose to 34 today as more than 2,200 people were left homeless.

Whole settlements have been engulfed by the flames, caused by an unprecedented heatwave in which temperatures have reached 42C in central and western parts of the country.

State media showed footage of burning cottages, and groups of residents passing buckets of water from hand to hand. Several villages in the Nizhny Novgorod, Voronezh and Ryazan regions were reduced to drifts of ash. One man showed the melted engine of his car.

The president, Dmitry Medvedev, declared a state of emergency in seven regions as firefighters struggled to contain about 600 blazes covering an estimated 309,000 acres (125,000 hectares). Strong winds added to the difficulty.

A large number of children and elderly people were among those affected, said Medvedev. “Many families have been left with nothing. The fire destroyed everything. It is an enormous tragedy.” He promised compensation to the victims and said homes would be rebuilt by the winter.

Some villagers blamed local authorities for a sluggish response. Residents of Verkhnyaya Vereya, in the Nizhny Novogorod region, surrounded the prime minister, Vlaimir Putin, when he visited the blackened remains of the settlement yesterday.

They told him fires had raged around their homes for a week before they succumbed to the inferno. Putin admitted the scene looked like “something from a horror film”.

Careless hunters or people lighting barbecues in the countryside were thought to be responsible for starting some of the fires. Others took hold when peat bogs dried for agricultural use self-ignited, burning underground.

Moscow was veiled in acrid smoke from such fires this morning as landmarks disappeared from view and commuters clutched handkerchiefs to their faces. A new temperature record of 38C was set in the capital last Thursday and meteorologists expect it will be surpassed this week as the heatwave continues.

More than 2,000 people have died since the beginning of July as they tried to cool down by swimming in rivers and lakes. Authorities said many of the dead had been had been drinking.

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