Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Homes destroyed by Russia wildfire

Local residents make a human chain to carry buckets of water as they battle a fire near Shatura, Russia
Local residents look at the smog from a peat fire in a forest near the town of Shatura, Russia

Raging forest fires encircled a southern Russian city and tore through provincial villages, forcing mass evacuations as Moscow suffered a record heatwave.

Some 212,506 acres were burning across the country, and flames all but encircled the city of Voronezh, 300 miles south east of Moscow. Forest fires on Moscow's outskirts reached the city's western fringe, in the Krylatskoye district, but were extinguished.

State television pictures showed the evacuation by ambulance of a Voronezh city hospital. Channel One said more than 800 patients were transferred to other facilities as flames approached the city's outskirts and thick smoke lowered visibility.

Distraught locals were shown next to their burning homes, with one elderly man peering into the camera and asking "Where are we to live now?" Over his head, plumes of thick black smoke sailed toward the city centre. There, the few locals on the streets were shown holding handkerchiefs to their mouths.

Hundreds of homes in surrounding villages burned to the ground, the ministry said. The Interfax news agency reported that 340 homes were destroyed in a village near Nizhny Novgorod, around 250 miles east of Moscow. There were no reports of casualties.

Hot summers are usual even in Russia's more northern climes, where temperatures routinely reach the mid-80s. But the all-time temperature record was broken in Moscow for the second time in a week on Thursday.

The mercury hit 100 (37.8 Celsius), beating by a fraction a record set on Monday, the country's news agencies reported.

Muscovites have been urged to skip work and stay indoors due to the heat and potentially dangerous smog from peat bog fires outside the city, as the third week of a protracted heat wave approached.

While the heat was expected to ease in the coming days, the smog from the peat bogs could be around for weeks, officials have said.

The Moscow region has thousands of acres of peat bogs - wetlands full of decayed plant matter. When they are drained for agriculture and other purposes, they can become a fire hazard.

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