Russia moves rockets amid wildfires
Government orders relocation of munitions from military depot amid spreading wildfires.
Last Modified: 06 Aug 2010 11:21 GMT
Weapons were moved from a military depot to "a secure site" as the wildfires raged on [AFP]

Russia's defence ministry has ordered the relocation of weapons at a military depot near the capital as raging wildfires continued to spread across the region, the Ria Novosti news agency has said.

A defence ministry spokesman said "weapons, artillery and missiles" at the depot in Alabinsk, near Naro-Forminsk about 70 kilometres southwest of Moscow, have been transferred to a secure site "because of the danger posed by fires in the region".

No details about the munitions involved were disclosed but the armed forces have said that a naval logistics base near Moscow had been destroyed by the ongoing inferno.

Russian media reported as many as 200 planes may have been destroyed at the naval air base.

News of the munitions move came a day after the Kremlin ordered tighter security at military and strategic locations in light of the fires raging in central and western Russia.

Almost 600 fires were reported burning in Russia on Thursday, with the death toll from the fires now standing at 50.

Meanwhile officials a day earlier announced the transfer of material from the Sarov nuclear facility, 500 kilometres east of the capital, where nuclear weapons are assembled.

Volunteer teams

Temperatures up to 38 Celsius have exacerbated forest and peat bog fires across Russia's central and western regions, destroying close to 2,000 homes.

Thick smog that had blanketed Moscow has partially lifted but could return with no end in sight to a record heat wave, officials warned on Thursday.

Hundreds of fires were reportedly burning across central and western Russia [EPA]

The forecast for the week ahead shows little change in the capital and surrounding regions, with officials suggesting the 10,000 firefighters battling the blazes are insufficient.

In the blaze-ravaged village of Plotava, 60km east of Moscow, Viktor Sorokin, a local official, lamented that the number of fire wardens in woodland and peat bog areas had halved to 150 in the last few years under new rules.

"There used to be more of them, now there aren't enough," he said.

Some locals are taking the initiative to make up the shortfall in firefighters.

"We woke up several days ago and we couldn't breathe," said Alexander Babayev, a 27-year-old owner of a drive-in theatre, before taking a hose to low rising flames flickering above the smoldering ground.

Babayev assembled a team of volunteers using a social networking website and, after a few instructions from professionals, they began tending to fires.

Continuing threat

In Sarov, firefighters have focused on beating flames back from the top-secret Russian Federal Nuclear Research Centre.

A Sarov news website on Thursday cited local officials as saying a wall of fire had been broken down into several smaller blazes.

The officials said the closest blaze was still several kilometres from the research facilities and as a precaution all hazardous materials had been evacuated.

On Wednesday, Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, sacked several officers over the failure to stop the wildfires.

Medvedev criticised Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, the head of the Russian navy, and his deputy Alexander Tatarinov, over "incomplete professional responsibility" in tackling a fire last week.

The president cut short his traditional summer break in the southern resort of Sochi and returned to Moscow to chair an emergency meeting of the national security council on the fire disaster.

Sergei Shoigu, the country's emergencies minister, said Russia has been sent helicopters and planes to help douse the flames from Ukraine, Armenia, Italy, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
The wildfires have not been restricted to Russia, with forest fires continuing to burn in the western part of Georgia, near Turkey.

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