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Wildfires threaten animal sanctuary

Wildfires are raging close to a shelter housing hundreds of dogs and retired circus animals as the death toll from weeks of blazes across Russia rose to 50.

Almost 600 separate fires are still burning, mostly in western Russia, as the country endures its hottest summer on record.

The director of the animal shelter, in the village of Khoteichi, 40 miles east of Moscow, said volunteers have already extinguished a fire that came within 150 yards and are bracing themselves for more fires. The shelter is home to more than 1,800 animals, mainly dogs, but also bears, monkeys, foxes and tortoises.

"With the speed of fire, we don't know if we can save them all," Sergei Serdyuk said.

Nearby fire stations did not answer calls when Tuesday's blaze advanced - one official hung up as soon as he heard the word fire, said Mr Serdyuk.

Thick smog that has blanketed Moscow partially lifted on Thursday but could return, with no end in sight to a record heatwave, officials warned. Temperatures up to 38C have exacerbated forest and peat bog fires across Russia's central and western regions, destroying close to 2,000 homes.

Officials have suggested the 10,000 firefighters battling the blazes are not enough. The forecast for the week ahead shows little change in the capital and surrounding regions, where the average summer temperature is around 23C.

In the blaze-ravaged village of Plotava, some 35 miles east of Moscow, local official Viktor Sorokin complained that the number of fire wardens in woodland and peat bog areas had halved to 150 in the last few years under new rules.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has promised to build new, better homes before winter, and vowed each victim would receive £3,800 compensation - a huge sum in a country whose average monthly wage is £500, and some may have deliberately torched their houses to qualify.

To the east, firefighters focused on beating flames back from a top-secret nuclear research facility in the city of Sarov. In the capital, President Dmitry Medvedev fired several high-ranking military officials over what he called criminal negligence in fires that ravaged a military base.

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