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Russia wildfires still spreading - 50 dead

  • 8-5-2010

Russia is still fighting to extinguish nearly 600 wildfires in an emergency that has now claimed 50 lives.

Foreign reinforcements are arriving, Russian officials say, including two Canadair water-bombing planes from Italy. Ukraine and Belarus are also sending firefighters.

One fire threatens a shelter housing some 1,000 animals in the Moscow area.

The Moscow smog eased on Thursday, though an acrid smell persisted from peat fires burning outside the city.

The Bim charity shelter at Khoteichi, 100km (60 miles) south-east of Moscow, said a forest fire had come dangerously close to the animals' cages. It is home to hundreds of dogs and cats, as well as circus animals, RIA Novosti news agency reports.

No details are available on the number of animals killed in the wildfires, which have spread amid a record heatwave, with temperatures soaring to nearly 40C (104F).

Forecasters expect Moscow's high temperatures to persist for several more days.

On Wednesday President Dmitry Medvedev sacked several top military officials for failing to stop wildfires from destroying a naval base outside Moscow.

He made the announcement after halting his summer holiday to return to Moscow for emergency talks on the wildfires.

Seven regions are under a state of emergency. Russian officials say there are now 589 wildfires raging across 196,000 ha (484,326 acres). More than 160,000 firefighters have been deployed.

Key installations affected

In the Nizhny Novgorod region, east of Moscow, firefighters have been battling blazes near a major nuclear research facility in Sarov.

As a precaution, all nuclear materials have been removed from the site, which is about 400km (250 miles) from Moscow.

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A week ago a naval logistics base was engulfed by fire at Kolomna, 100km south-east of Moscow. Office buildings, warehouses and equipment were destroyed.

Mr Medvedev said commanders of the base were absent when the fire occurred and that it was "unclear where they were".

As a result Mr Medvedev formally reprimanded the head of the Russian navy, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, and his deputy Alexander Tatarinov, accusing them of a lack of "professional responsibility" over how the fire was handled.

He also said he had ordered the sacking of a swathe of officers including the head of the Russian navy's logistics division, Sergei Sergeyev, and Nikolai Kuklev, the head of the navy's aviation arm.

More than 3,500 people have lost their homes in 14 regions of Russia in the past few days.

About a fifth of Russia's grain crop has also been destroyed.

News Feed from BBC News


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