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Hundreds of new wildfires erupt in Russian forests

A woman in Voronezh, Russia, held a crying baby near the remains of her burnt-out home. A woman in Voronezh, Russia, held a crying baby near the remains of her burnt-out home. (Alexey Sazonov/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Associated Press / August 2, 2010

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VORONEZH, Russia — Hundreds of new fires broke out yesterday in Russian forests and fields that have been dried to a crisp by drought and record heat, but firefighters claimed success in bringing some of the wildfires raging around cities under control.

The firefighters got much-needed help from residents desperate to save their homes, who shoveled sand onto the flames and carted water in large plastic bottles.

The wildfires that began threatening much of western Russia last week have killed 28 people and destroyed or damaged 77 towns or villages, the Emergencies Ministry said. Thousands of people have been evacuated from areas in the path of flames; no deaths have been recorded since late Wednesday.

Troops and volunteers have joined tens of thousands of firefighters in combating the fires, which blazed just outside Moscow and in several provinces east and south of the capital.

The region around Voronezh, a city of 850,000 people about 300 miles south of Moscow, has been one of the worst hit. Half of the 300 homes in the village of Maslovka were reduced to cinders.

Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Chernova said fires in the Voronezh region were under control yesterday and no longer threatened any population centers.

But woodlands on the edge of the city, about a mile from some houses, continued to burn. Firefighters sprayed water from hoses and dumped it from the air, while local residents pitched in on the ground.

Some 320 new fires broke out yesterday, but 210 were extinguished, the Emergencies Ministry said, while the total territory ablaze shrank by thousands of acres to about 316,000 acres. No homes were damaged by fire during the weekend, it said.

Fires have devastated the regions around Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s fifth-largest city, and the city of Ryazan, just southeast of Moscow. They also were moving into regions farther to the east such as Mordovia and Tatarstan.

Smoky air has settled over cities, already baking in the heat, and many residents are complaining of headaches and intestinal ailments. In Moscow, the smog has come mainly from fires in dried-up peat bogs.

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