25 die as forest fires spread out of control in Russia

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Forest fires burned across Russia yesterday, destroying villages, surrounding one southern city and killing at least 25 people, including three firefighters.

The fires have spread quickly across more than 200,000 acres in recent days after the hottest July since records began 130 years ago. A severe drought has caused fields and forests to dry up and much of this year's wheat harvest is destroyed.

The Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited the ruins of Verkhnyaya Vereya, a village where all 341 houses were burned to the ground and five residents died. It was one of three destroyed around Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's fifth-largest city, 300 miles east of Moscow.

"Before winter, each house will be restored," Mr Putin told a crowd of distressed locals, most of them women. "I promise: the village will be rebuilt." One weeping woman thanked him for his "serious talk" and promise of 200,000 roubles (£4,200) in compensation for each villager, and Mr Putin kissed her on the cheek.

Fires have all but encircled Voronezh, a city of 850,000 people, some 300 miles south of Moscow. More than 900 patients had to be hurriedly transferred out of a Voronezh hospital and 2,000 children were evacuated from 12 summer camps. Firefighters were pouring water on the forests from the air, said Olga Izvekova, an emergencies services spokeswoman.