Video: Volunteers drive into Russian blaze

msnbc.com news services
updated 8/2/2010 7:20:51 PM ET 2010-08-02T23:20:51

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared a state of emergency on Monday in seven of Russia's 83 regions due to wildfires fueled by the worst heatwave in over a century, news agencies reported.

The death toll from the fires rose to 40 on Monday, as millions of Muscovites coughed through a haze of smoke from burning peat bogs and firefighters scrambled to put out hundreds of new blazes.

The fires come after weeks of searing heat and practically no rain. Although temperatures in the Moscow area dipped modestly over the weekend, experts predict they'll climb back to around 38 C (100 F) this week.

Still, firefighters on Monday reported making some headway against the blazes that have destroyed hundreds of homes, burned through vast sections of tinder-dry land and forced thousands to evacuate.

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Vladimir Stepanov, head of Russia's Emergencies Ministry's crisis center, said about 500 new wildfires were sparked nationwide in the past 24 hours but most of them were immediately doused.

"Most importantly, the mission we are tasked with — to avert the spread of fires to population centers, and to avoid more death — is being accomplished," Stepanov said in televised comments.

Muscovites awoke Monday to a sharp burning smell from the smoldering peat bogs south and east of the capital, haze that has increased the city's already-high pollution readings.

Wildfires were still burning Monday across some 300,000 acres (125,000 hectares), mostly in central and western Russia, slightly less than the area engulfed in flames over the weekend, Stepanov said.

About 1,500 homes have been wiped out by fires. Regional Development Minister Viktor Basargin on Monday estimated the cost of fire damage at more than 6.5 billion rubles ($210 million).

The Health Ministry on Monday said 40 people have died in the fires, 19 of them in the Nizhny Novgorod region 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow.

In all, wildfires were reported in 17 of Russia's regions. President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday declared a state of emergency in seven of the regions, including the area that surrounds but does not include Moscow.

'Nobody helped us'
In the half-destroyed village of Maslovka near Voronezh, emergency officials handed out food and clothing to residents Monday as the heavy smoke and smog cleared. In the nearby village of Shuberovskoye, which also had been decimated by fire, locals complained that they were abandoned by firefighters.

"Nobody came to us and nobody helped us," said Anna Izmakina, 79. "We called by phone several times, trying to call firefighters — they set off, but never arrived."

She said she managed to salvage a few possessions before fire engulfed her home.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday warned that local officials who don't respond adequately to the fires are in danger of losing their jobs.

"I recommend the heads of municipalities about whom citizens have big doubts should step down," he said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu urged Russians vacationing in rural areas to be especially vigilant about disposing of flammable materials, since barbecues are a popular activity.

Russian news agencies reported that some of those rendered homeless by the blazes received the first part of a 200,000-ruble compensation package ($6,600) promised on Friday by Putin.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Fires rage across Russia

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  1. Front to back, Oleg Mikhailo, his father Valentin and son Anatoly, clear the site of the fire where their house burned to the ground in the village of Kartonosovo in Ryazan region, 111 miles southeast of Moscow on Thursday, Aug. 12. (Misha Japaridze / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A Belarussian firefighter works to extinguish a fire in a forest near the village of Ryabinovka, Ryazan region, on Aug. 12. The number and extent of forest fires in Russia‘s central European provinces showed signs of abating for the first time in weeks. (Maxim Shipenkov / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers on their way to extinguishing a forest fire near the village of Tokhushevo, on Wednesday, Aug. 11. A new wildfire broke out Wednesday near a major nuclear research centre in the Russian town of Sarov, causing the plant's management to ask firefighters and troops to reverse their withdrawal. (Viktor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A helicopter carries water before releasing it over a forest fire near the settlement of Kustarevka in Ryazan region, 211 miles southeast of Moscow on Tuesday, Aug. 10. (Denis Sinyakov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Firefighters watch as heavy smoke billows near Kustaryovka, Ryazan region, on Tuesday, Aug. 10. Hundreds of wildfires have swept western Russia and cloaked Moscow in suffocating smog. (Maxim Shipenkov / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A small dog outfitted with a face mask walks in Moscow on Aug. 10. (Viktor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A passenger looks at airplanes shrouded in heavy smog caused by peat fires at Vnukovo airport outside Moscow on Aug. 9. (Alexander Natruskin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Residents attempt to extinguish a fire near the village of Polyaki-Maydan in Ryazan region, some 235 miles southeast of Moscow, on Aug. 9. (Denis Sinyakov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. People rest on the Manezhaya Square just outside the Kremlin Aug. 9, enjoying the brief respite from the smog due to a change in the wind direction. Deaths in Moscow have doubled to an average of 700 people a day as the Russian capital is engulfed by poisonous smog from wildfires and a sweltering heat wave, a top health official said. (Ivan Sekretarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A forest fire spreads near the village of Verkhnyaya Vereya in Nizhny Novgorod region, 225 miles east of Moscow, on Aug. 7. This picture was received Aug. 8. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People cover their faces with cloth to protect themselves from the smell of heavy smog while waiting for their flight at Domodedovo airport outside Moscow on Aug. 8. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Residents walk amidst the debris of their houses, as they search for their belongings with heavy smog shrouding the village of Laskovo, Russia, on Aug. 8. (Denis Sinyakov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Women trying to protect themselves from the smell of heavy smog caused by peat fires in nearby forests, sit inside a train at an underground railway station in Moscow on Aug. 8. (Alexander Demianchuk / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. People attend a religious service, asking God for rains to prevent new wildfire outbursts, in the village of Kriusha, Russia, on Saturday, Aug. 7. (Denis Sinyakov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A newly married couple shares a tender moment despite the deep layer of smog from wildfires covering the ancient Russian city of Ryazan, Russia, on Aug. 7. (Sergey Ponomarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. People sit amidst the charred ruins of the village of Peredeltsy burned to the ground by a spreading wildfire in Ryazan region, some 111 miles southeast of Moscow, Moscow, Friday, Aug. 6. More than 500 separate blazes were burning nationwide Friday mainly across western Russia, amid the country's most intense heat wave in 130 years. (Sergey Ponomarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Russians and tourists wear facemasks to protect themselves from forest fire smog while walking on Red Square in Moscow on Friday, Aug. 6. Smog from wildfires in the countryside choked Moscow, with the levels of toxic particles, raising alarm over public health and numerous commuters wearing anti-pollution masks. (Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Russian servicemen remove felled trees, cut down to limit the spread of fire outside Lukhovitsy, 68 miles southeast of Moscow on Aug. 6. (Denis Sinyakov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Russian women look at the charred remians of a building south of Moscow in Izlegoshche on Aug. 6. The village of Izlegoshche was completely destroyed by wildfires and will not be rebuilt, according to an administrative decision. (Alexey Sazonov / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Crews try to keep the fires from spreading to the village Golovanovo, Ryazan region, on Thursday, Aug. 5. Russia was struggling to contain the worst wildfires in its modern history. At least 50 people have been killed. (Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Cars drive through thick smoke from wildfires close to the road in the city of Balashikha just east of Moscow on Aug. 5 (Sergei Chirikov / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A firefighter attempts to extinguish a forest fire near the village of Dolginino in the Ryazan region, 111 miles southeast of Moscow on Aug. 4. (Str / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. People walk past the Kremlin shrouded in smog on Aug. 4. Air quality levels in Moscow tumbled to an eight-year low as the Russian capital was blanketed in thick smoke from forest and peat fires. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Russian firefighters cut a path between a forest and the village of Kupavna to stop fire from spreading on Aug. 3. (Maxim Shipenkov / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Residents fill pails with water as they work to extinguish a forest fire near the settlement of Provolochnoye in the Nizhny Novgorod region, about 185 miles from Moscow on Aug. 3. (Yuri Kochetkov / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Smoke rises east of Moscow in this satellite image released on Aug. 3. (European Space Agency via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A woman surveys the remains of private storage buildings and garages with her son after fire destroyed the structures in Ostfievo, outisde Moscow, on Aug. 3. (Maxim Shipenkov / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Residents comb debris for belongings destroyed by fire outside Moscow on Aug. 3. (Maxim Shipenkov / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Russian servicemen fighting forest and peat fires rest in a forest near the town of Gus-Khrustalny in the Vladimir region, southeast of Moscow on Monday, Aug. 2. At least 34 people have died in wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and burned through vast spans of tinder-dry land, but firefighters are making headway and the blazes are dying down, a Russian official said Monday. (Yuri Kochetkov / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. A burned car sits amidst the ruins of houses that were destroyed by a forest fire in the village of Shuberskoe, north of the town of Voronezh, Russia, on Monday. (Mikhail Metzel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Maria Orehova, 76, weeps at a distribution center for donated clothes after her house was burned by a forest fire in a suburb of the town of Voronezh on Monday. (Mikhail Metzel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Moscow's St. Basil's cathedral and Lenin's Mausoleum, right, are seen through the smog covering Russia's capital. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A Russian man watches forest fires burn in Beloomut late on Sunday, August 1. (Andrey Smirnov / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A firefighter works to extinguish forest fires on the outskirts of the Russian city of Voronezh on Saturday, July 31. Hundreds of thousands of firefighters, including army troops, battled blazes raging across central Russia during the worst heat wave in decades. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A firefighter douses flames among trees in the village of Lesnoye on July 31. (Artyom Korotayev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A man searches through the rubble for his belongings after a fire swept through the village of Mokhovoye. (Artyom Korotayev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Firefighters try to douse a fire set at the edge of Voronezh. (Alexey Sazonov / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Residents cover their noses from the smog as they sit outside their houses in the village of Vilya on July 31. (Mikhail Voskresensky / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A man inspects a burnt building in the village of Beloomut on July 31. (Andrey Smirnov / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. An elderly woman holding a chicken is comforted in front of her burned home on the outskirts of the city of Voronezh on July 30. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. A firefighter works to extinguish a fire amidst the debris of a burnt house near Voronezh on Friday. Fires in Voronezh, Nizhny Nvogorod and the Moscow region have detroyed more than 1,000 homes. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. A soldier walks past birch trees damaged by fire, on the outskirts of Voronezh. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, Nizhny Novgorod region Governor Valery Shantsev, center, and an Emergency Situation ministry officer inspect a village burnt down by wildfire in the Vyksa district of the Nizhny Novgorod region on Friday. Over 2,000 people have been left homeless by wildfires ."Before winter, each house will be restored," Putin told the villagers. "I promise — the village will be rebuilt." (Alexey Druzhinyn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Sweet peppers are seen in front of the ruins of a burned house near Voronezh on Friday. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. A woman holds icons and a cross as fire caused by severe heat burns nearby, outside the town of Vyksa, on Thursday, July 29. (Mikhail Voskresensky / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Men walk in front of a burning building outside the town of Vyksa on July 29, 2010. (Mikhail Voskresensky / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. A woman sits amidst her belongings watching a fire burn outside the town of Vyksa on July 29. (Mikhail Voskresensky / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. A woman passes by a church while heavy smoke from the fires fills the sky outside the town of Vyksa on July 29. (Mikhail Voskresensky / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. A grass fire burns at Khodynskoe Pole aviation museum in Moscow on July 29. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Local residents make a human chain to carry buckets of water to extinguishes a peat fire in a forest near the town of Shatura, southeast of Moscow on July 29. (Sergey Ponomarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. A firefighter works to extinguish a peat fire in a forest near the town of Shatura on July 27. (Denis Sinyakov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Moscow's Kremlin is covered by heavy smog on July 27 . Muscovites are struggling to breathe as the capital is blanketed in smoke from peat and forest fires burning in the surrounding courtyside. (Sergei Ilnitsky / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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