Russia halves fires area as weather chills

17th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Tuesday claimed to have halved the area of its worst ever wildfires as a record heatwave finally relented and new weather brought torrential rains and winds.

Officials said the danger from a fire raging in a nature reserve close to Russia's biggest nuclear research centre had ebbed and troops who had been brought in to fight the blaze would be withdrawn.

Temperatures in Moscow, which edged 40 degrees Celsius last week, were back down in the mid-20s after the heatwave triggered a nationwide crisis and destroyed a quarter of the country's crops.

The emergencies ministry said in a statement that the area ablaze in peat or forest fires nationwide had been cut to 22,700 hectares from 45,800 a day earlier. At the peak of the crisis, almost 200,000 hectares of land were on fire.

"The situation with the wildfires has improved considerably," it said

Officials said the situation around Russia's main nuclear research centre in the town of Sarov had also eased, with a forest fire nearby no longer posing a threat to the facility.

"The situation has stabilised, there is no threat to the perimeter of the nuclear centre," said the head of the Volga region for the emergencies ministry, Igor Panshin.

"In connection with the stabilising situation, from Tuesday we are planning a gradual withdrawal of the deployment by the ministry of defence," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

The fire, in the district of the village of Popovka, 17 kilometres (10 miles) southeast of Sarov, had extended to 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) over the past days. Sarov is still closed to foreigners, as in Soviet times.

Almost 100,000 people in 1,500 towns and villages in northwest Russia were left without electricity the day before after a storm ripped through the region. Officials said Tuesday that supplies were 90 percent restored.

Despite cooler temperatures and occasional rain showers, forecasters' warnings that the capital was also at risk of being hit by a storm were not fulfilled.

Forecasters said the poor air quality was due to smoke from remaining wildfires in the outlying regions drifting over Moscow and would improve as the weather changes over the next days.

Moscow had in recent days been blanketed in an acrid smog from the wildfires which raised alarm for the health of its residents. The smog has now lifted but the air Tuesday still smelled of smoke.

The fires and heatwave have triggered a major crisis in Russia affecting nearly all areas of life, in particular the agriculture industry and left its leaders scrambling to ensure their popularity is not hurt.

According to a poll by the Public Opinion Research Centre (VTsIOM), 72 percent of Russians said the heatwave had a negative impact on them, with 35 percent saying they felt very bad.

© 2010 AFP

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