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Russia struggles with wildfires
Firefighters and troops battle more than 500 fires as temperatures continue to soar.
Last Modified: 03 Aug 2010 16:29 GMT
Hundreds of houses were destroyed and thousands of people have been made homeless [AFP]

Russia is struggling to contain wildfires that have claimed the lives of at least 40 people.

More than 500 fires were still raging over an area of 170,000 hectares east and south of Moscow on Tuesday, Russia's emergencies ministries said.

During the last 24 hours, more than 300 new blazes were reported to have broken out. 

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, has declared a state of emergency in seven regions in a decree that also restricted public access to the affected areas.

In addition to about 10,000 regular firefighters, the government has sent in almost 2,000 defence ministry troops and 3,000 interior ministry personnel to the affected areas.

At least 1,875 houses have been destroyed in fires, leaving more than 2,000 people homeless, according to the regional development ministry.

Reconstruction plans

The authorities have promised compensation to those who have lost their homes and Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, said he would personally supervise the reconstruction via video cameras to be installed at each construction site.

"In some parts, entire villages have been wiped off the map," Al Jazeera's Neave Barker, reporting from southeast Moscow, said.

"President Medvedev has ordered that these houses be rebuilt before the other extreme sets in, before the temperatures hit as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius in some parts towards the end of October."

He said experts predicted that there was no chance of the heatwave relenting "without a significant change in the weather, namely rain. Unfortunately, forecasters say that is not expected any time soon".

Temperatures of between 35-42 degrees Celsius were expected in Moscow and central Russia over the next few days.

Russian media quoted Sergei Shoigu, the emergencies minister, as telling Medvedev that more than 300 towns and villages had been saved from destruction in the last day.

"But in some places it is getting out of control," he said during a meeting near the southern city of Sochi.

'Measure of responsibility'

The ministry has also criticised local officials for not doing enough to bring the blazes under control.

"Everyone must realise the measure of their responsibility," Vladimir Stepanov, the head of the emergencies ministry's crisis centre, said. Municipal authorities "must mobilise all their forces, not just sit and wait for fire brigades to arrive".

The worst hit region has been Nizhny Novgorod with 19 deaths, but raging fires have also claimed lives in the Voronezh, Lipetsk, Moscow and Ryazan regions.

Coupled with a severe drought, the heatwave and fires have also devastated crops in the fields of an across "an area of the size of Portugal," Al Jazeera's Barker said.

Wheat prices hit a 22 month high in August following a record gain in July, the biggest in at least 51 years.

Russia is the world's number three wheat exporter, but may have to curb or stop its wheat exports because of the damage.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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