Forest fires 'out of control' in parts of western Russia

Forest fires threatened to blaze out of control across parts of Russia yesterday and have already left 40 people dead and destroyed a fifth of the country's wheat crop.

The fires, prompted by one of the hottest spells in recorded history, have destroyed about 2,000 homes.

Thirteen hangars outside Moscow belonging to the Russian Navy burned down yesterday, destroying the aircraft and equipment inside them.

Tens of thousands of troops and volunteers were helping some 10,000 firefighters battle blazes in more than a dozen western Russian provinces, seven of which were under a state of emergency.

Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said yesterday that more than 300 towns and villages had been saved from the fires by their efforts over the past day.

However, Mr Shoigu admitted during a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev that "in some places it is getting out of control". With record high temperatures set to stay across European Russia for at least another week, there are fears the damage will grow.

The prime minister, Vladimir Putin, yesterday visited more victims of the fires in a village not far from Moscow. He promised that new houses will be built - before the winter sets in - for everyone whose house was destroyed in a fire, and that they will also receive financial compensation for lost belongings.

He said yesterday that he would ensure video cameras were installed at each construction site where new homes were being built so that he could personally supervise the reconstruction effort.

"It was a nightmare," said Margarita Sholokhova, pacing forlornly near the remains of her home in the village of Kadanok, 90 miles southeast of Moscow.

"There were too many fires and not enough firefighters. We stayed in our house until the last possible minute, but the fire came and covered the whole village like a hat," she said.