Mikhail Metzel  /  AP
Anatoly Simaletov, 72, stands at the courtyard of his house after it was destroyed by a forest fire in the village Shuberskoe, Russia on Monday. At least 34 people have died in wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and burned through vast spans of tinder-dry land.
msnbc.com news services
updated 8/3/2010 7:18:50 PM ET 2010-08-03T23:18:50

Some of the devastating wildfires sweeping western Russia are out of control, Russia's emergency chief said Tuesday, as fears grew there were not enough firefighters to battle 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 Tuesday evening there were 246 fires burning on a total of 121,000 hectares (310,000 acres).

Earlier, Russian media quoted Shoigu as saying the intense efforts against the fires had saved more than 300 towns and villages from destruction in the last day.

"But in some places it is getting out of control," Shoigu was quoted as telling President Dmitry Medvedev during a meeting near the southern city of Sochi; the reports did not elaborate on the number or location of fires considered out of control.

40 people killed
The blazes, coming after weeks of record-breaking heat and practically no rainfall, have killed 40 people and destroyed nearly 2,000 residences.

The fires also leaped into a military base near Moscow, destroying the headquarters building and 13 buildings containing unspecified aviation equipment, the federal Investigative Committee said Tuesday. The fire at the base was reported by some Russian media last week, but the statement was the first official confirmation.

Shoigu told a televised news conference that "a tense situation" continues in the fight against fires near one of Russia's largest nuclear research facilities, in Sarov some 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow. The head of the national nuclear agency, Sergei Kiriyenko, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying some 3,000 workers and volunteers were fighting the fire near the center.


  1. Related content
    1. Russia declares emergency over wildfires
    2. Russia sends army to battle wildfires
    3. Bikinis in Moscow? Europe wilts in heat wave
    4. First half of 2010 warmest on record

The Emergencies Ministry criticized local officials on Tuesday for not doing enough to stem the blazes, despite Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warning earlier that those who did not respond adequately risked losing their jobs.

"Everyone must realize the measure of their responsibility," said Vladimir Stepanov of the head of the ministry's crisis center. Municipal authorities "must mobilize all their forces, not just sit and wait for fire brigades to arrive."

The weather this week will not likely help the effort, as temperatures in Moscow and to the south and east were forecast to reach 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit).

Putin said Tuesday he would personally supervise the reconstruction of fire-ravaged homes via video cameras to be installed at each construction site, and would broadcast the images to the government website.

Putin has promised new housing before winter for those made homeless, as well as 200,000 rubles ($6,700) in compensation.

Putin-backed forest law blamed
The prime minister's promises came as environmentalists and politicians charge that efforts to fight the forest fires have been crippled by a law passed four years ago at the behest of Putin and powerful logging interests.

The Forest Code in 2006, passed on Putin's orders, disbanded a centralized system of forest protection and turned the country's vast forests into a virtual no-man's land.

"There was never such a mess in Russian forests as there is now," said Gennady Gudkov, a deputy from the Just Russia party told Reuters. Gudkov is one of 102 MPs who wrote an open letter to Putin in 2006 asking him to delay the new code.

Environmentalists blame bureaucracy and business lobbies for the faults in the forestry legislation, which they say was aimed at milking the Russian forests for quick profits.

"This law is good for large companies with (close connections to the authorities), enabling them to quickly cut trees, make money and leave," Alexei Yaroshenko, of Greenpeace Russia, told Reuters.

Victims have expressed outrage that more wasn't done ahead of time to repel the advancing infernos.

"It was a nightmare," said Margarita Sholokhova, pacing forlornly near the remains of her home in the village of Kadanok, 90 miles (150 kilometers) 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.

Four brick walls and a heavy iron stove of her modest provincial house were all that remained after wildfires swept through Kadanok three days ago. Her mother's house next door was also among the dozen homes wiped out in the town, but a dozen others escaped damage.

Trenches are being dug and trees felled around several nuclear facilities, news agencies reported.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Fires rage across Russia

loading photos...
  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
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Video: Fires destroy 2,000 homes in Russia

  1. Transcript of: Fires destroy 2,000 homes in Russia

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Overseas tonight there are new fears that there are simply not enough firefighters to get control of the many wildfires sweeping across western Russia . Some 250 of them now across more than 300,000 acres. So far these fires have killed 40 people and destroyed 2,000

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments