Dozens die in Russian wildfires

Wildfires raging across central and
western Russia have claimed 40 lives, as millions of Muscovites cough through a
haze of smoke from burning peat bogs and fire fighters scramble 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
100 F this week.

Wildfires are burning across some
300,000 acres, mostly in central and western Russia, slightly less than the
area engulfed in flames over the weekend.

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

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

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned  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 $6,600
compensation package promised by Putin.

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