Forest fires kill eight in Russia

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Forest fires swept through central Russia amid a record heatwave, killing eight people as they destroyed villages of wooden houses, the emergency ministry said Friday.

Five people, including one fireman, died in fires on Thursday in the central Voronezh region, while 21 people were hospitalised, the ministry said.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew to the central Nizhny Novgorod region and met residents of a village of more than 300 houses which was completely destroyed.

Putin promised compensation for each resident of 200,000 rubles (6,614 dollars), the ITAR-TASS news agency reported, after all 341 houses in the village of Verkhnyaya Vereya burnt down, leaving more than 500 residents homeless.

Television reports showed a street with all the houses razed to brick foundations and evacuated residents sheltering in a children's summer camp.

At least two other people died in the Nizhny Novgorod region, according to preliminary information, and 550 houses burnt down, the Investigative Committee of the State Prosecutors' office, said Friday.

A fireman was killed on Friday while fighting a fire in the Moscow region, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

President Dmitry Medvedev told the government to take urgent measures to end the fires.

Hot dry conditions led to forest fires and smouldering peat that has enveloped Moscow in smog and led to the evacuation of thousands of residents from villages in central Russia, where hundreds of houses have been destroyed.

© 2010 AFP

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