Russia's armed forces mobilised yesterday to fight hundreds of wildfires that have wiped out villages and vast areas of woodland. Officials said the worst blazes were under control, but evacuations continued. The fires have killed at least 30 people in the past three days, officials said, and they are breaking out as Moscow and other regions of the country suffer their hottest summer since records began 130 years ago.
All 300 of the army's fire trucks have been dispatched to help fight blazes across at least 14 of the country's 83 regions, including outside Moscow. The Emergencies Ministry said in a website statement that "the situation with fires... is under control", due to preventative measures being taken. But state television reported that in some regions up to 20 new fires were being registered every day. More than 10,000 firefighters were among the 250,000 people involved in tackling the fires, officials said. In the industrial city of Togliatti, in central Russia, 2,000 children were evacuated from a summer camp as a state of emergency was declared, the state Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Nationwide, fire has destroyed 1,200 homes – thought to be mostly provincial village dwellings. Thousands of people have been forced to flee as blazes reduced houses to smouldering ruins and filled the air with smog and ash. The Voronezh and Nizhny Novgorod provinces are the worst affected. An Associated Press reporter in Voronezh city, which has 850,000 people and is 300 miles south of Moscow, saw half a village reduced to ash, and watched as stunned locals sifted through the dust trying to salvage possessions. Residents pooled what little food they had – mainly potatoes and carrots – to ensure that no one starved.
The fires that encircled Voronezh city earlier last week were not visible yesterday, as officials reported they had been brought under control. However, thick plumes of smoke from distant blazes were drifting into the city centre, where hotels housed some of the newly created refugees. Five people, including one firefighter, were killed by wildfires in Voronezh, and six residents and a firefighter died when a fire swept through the village of Mokhovoye in the Moscow region. The other deaths occurred in the Nizhny Novgorod, Ryazan and Lipetsk regions, all south or east of Moscow.
On Friday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Verkhnyaya Vereya, a village in the Nizhny Novgorod region 300 miles east of Moscow, where all 341 homes were burned to the ground, and where five locals were killed. He promised residents 200,000 roubles (£4,210) each in compensation. The village, one of three hamlets destroyed around Nizhny Novgorod – Russia's fifth-largest city – looked like a ghost town coated in gray ash.
The region's governor, Valery Shantsev, said in televised remarks yesterday that the situation there remained grave because thick smoke was preventing aerial dousing of the flames. On Friday, the Kremlin mobilised the army to help as fires raged over 214,136 acres of woodland and peat bog.