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US helps Russia tackle wildfires
Planes bring firefighting equipment as 480 blazes countinue to burn across country.
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2010 22:00 GMT
At the height of the situation, about 200,000 hectares were on fire in Russia [Reuters]

The first US air force planes have arrived in Russia loaded with equipment to help tackle  
wildfires that have been raging across vast areas of the country for weeks.

Two C-130 aircraft loaded with aid landed at a Moscow airport on Saturday as Russian officials said the ferocious blazes which have killed at least 50 people were beginning to be brought under control.  

"After close consultation between the Russian government, the United States began the deliveries of fire fighting equipment valued at approximately $2.5 million ... to bolster Russia's fire suppression efforts," Eric Rubin, the US embassy charge d'affaires, said.

"These deliveries will include water tanks, pumps, hand tools, fire protective clothing and medical kits."

Valery Shuikov, the deputy head of the international department of the Russian emergencies ministry, welcomed the assistance.

"We will always remember this gesture, this arm that was extended to us at a very difficult time," Shuikov said at the Vnukovo airport.

Two further flights are due to arrive with more equipment in the coming days.

'Considerable improvement'

The emergencies ministry said on Saturday that there were still 480 fires raging across an area of 56,000 hectares, but this just a quarter of the area of almost 200,000 hectares that was burning at the peak of the crisis and down around 10,000 hectares from Friday.

"At the current moment the situation with the wildfires has improved considerably," Sergei Shoigu, Russia's emrgencies minister, said in a statement on the ministry's website.

"The weather has not helped us. Everything has been done by the emergency services, the interior ministry, the defence ministry and volunteers."

The number of fires around the capital, Moscow, also fell on Saturday after days of choking smog.

The emergencies ministry said that "the situation in the Moscow region has significantly improved" as the number of fires has fallen by half to 16 overnight.

Russia has been battling the fires for nearly three weeks. They have destroyed provincial towns and villages, and together with the drought have cost Russia one-third of its wheat crop.

Source:
Agencies
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