Muscovites resort to facemasks

Dense clouds of acrid smoke from peat and forest fires choked Russia's capital yesterday, seeping into homes and offices, diverting planes and prompting exhausted Muscovites to wear surgical masks to filter the foul air.

Air pollution in the city of 10.5 million surged to five times normal levels, the highest sustained contamination since Russia's worst heatwave in over a century began a month ago.

"It feels like I'm in a burning house and I can't escape," said Yelena Petrenko, 32, who used a handkerchief to cover her mouth because the chemists she visited had run out of facemasks.

Officials urged Muscovites to stay indoors because of the dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and fine particles in the air. Weather forecasts said the smoke, which has enveloped Red Square and even found its way into the city's underground metro stations, would persist until Monday.