Fires cloak parched Russian capital in smog

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Inhabitants of Moscow were gasping Monday as the Russian capital was blanketed in a heavy cloud of smog from forest and peat fires caused by the severest heatwave for decades.

The spires of the city's famous Stalin-era skyscrapers were barely visible behind the curtain of fog in the early morning hours as the authorities sent in water-carrying aircraft to attack the fires in the Moscow region.

Over the last 24 hours, firefighters have been battling 60 forest and peat fires covering a total area of 59 hectares, the emergencies ministry said in a statement.

Planes from the emergencies ministry, including two giant Ilyushin-76 aircraft, had chucked down 550 tonnes of water to douse the fires over the last 24 hours, it said.

At 0600 GMT Monday, 21 peat fires were still burning in the Moscow region covering a total area of 17 hectares.

The Russian capital and much of the country from the Baltic to the Pacific coasts have been basking in the severest heatwave for decades which has destroyed 20 percent of all of Russia's arable land.

Daytime temperatures in Moscow have been over 35 degrees Celsius for days and are nudging closer to the all time temperature record in the capital of 36.8 degrees recorded back in 1920.

The heatwave has claimed hundreds lives of people who drowned in an attempt to cool off from the record temperatures. The horrific toll has been blamed on drunkenness and the use of poorly-equipped beaches.

This weekend alone, 65 people drowned in Russia, Interfax quoted the emergencies ministry as saying.

© 2010 AFP

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