August 17, 2010

Russia Still Fighting Country’s Worst Wildfires

Russia said on Monday that it was fighting off the country's worst wildfires in history, including one closing in on a secret nuclear site.

The forest fires have killed over 50 people and raised concerns about the security of potentially dangerous strategic sites located in the vicinity of the blazes.

Authorities said that they have taken a major step to resolving the crisis of the fires closing in on Russia's main nuclear research center in Sarov.

"The situation is stable and controllable. There are no fires on the territory of Sarov," the head of the emergencies ministry's branch for the Volga region, Igor Panshin, told AFP news.

"If the positive dynamic continues then a withdrawal of the contingent in Sarov will begin in the coming week."

The emergencies ministry said that the fire had extended 2,470 acres during the weekend and had been "localized and ringed-in."

The ministry said that nationwide, the area affected by the wildfires had been reduced by another 19,000 acres to 111,000 acres.  An area of almost 500,000 acres was consumed with flames during the peak of the crisis.

Officials said the situation around Moscow was under control but Russia's tough talking Prime Ministry Vladimir Putin took issue with that line of thought.

"The problem is that such control does not suit anyone," the Interfax news agency quoted Putin as saying at a meeting in the town of Kolomna outside Moscow.

"Such a situation is unacceptable," he said.

Officials have sought to downplay the true scale of the disaster over the past few days, and the federal government has yet to confirm the daily mortality rates in Moscow.

Temperatures in Moscow were 84 degrees Fahrenheit and there has been little sign of the smog from the wildfires that had blanketed the city for days.

The emergencies ministry in the Leningrad region around Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg said that almost 100,000 people in 1,500 towns and villages in northwest Russia were left without electricity after rain and high winds ripped through the region.

The storm saw high winds and driving rains and dropped several trees and even a crane. 

The fires and heatwave have triggered a major crisis in Russia that has affected nearly all areas of life, in particular the agriculture industry that has seen one quarter of Russian crops die out.

Russia implemented a ban during the weekend on the export of grain, which has proved highly controversial and forced up world wheat prices to two-year highs.