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Death toll rises in Russian fires

The death toll from fires raging across Russia has risen to 40, as millions in Moscow were confronted with a haze of smoke.

The fires came after weeks of searing heat and practically no rain. Although temperatures in the Moscow area dipped over the weekend, experts predict they will climb back to around 38C this week.

Firefighters reported making some headway against the blazes that have destroyed hundreds of homes, burned through vast sections of tinder-dry land and forced thousands to evacuate.

Vladimir Stepanov, head of Russia's Emergencies Ministry's crisis centre, said about 500 new wildfires were sparked nationwide in the past 24 hours but most of them were immediately doused.

"Most importantly, the mission we are tasked with - to avert the spread of fires to population centres, and to avoid more death - is being accomplished," he said..

Moscow awoke to the burning smell from the smouldering peat bogs south and east of the capital, haze that has increased the city's already-high pollution.

Wildfires were still burning across some 300,000 acres, mostly in central and western Russia, slightly less than the area engulfed in flames over the weekend.

About 1,500 homes have been wiped out by fires.

In all, wildfires were reported in 17 of Russia's regions. President Dmitry Medvedev declared a state of emergency in seven of them, including the area that surrounds, but does not include, Moscow.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on warned that local officials who do not respond adequately to the fires are in danger of losing their jobs. "I recommend the heads of municipalities about whom citizens have big doubts should step down," he said.


From Belfast Telegraph