Moscow May Break Heat Record as Russia's Heartland Burns, Drownings Rise
Moscow is set to break a heat record for a second day running as wildfires rage across European Russia, burning entire villages to the ground in some regions.
The temperature soared to a record 37.4 degrees Celsius (99.3 Fahrenheit) in Moscow yesterday, the hottest since records began 130 years ago. The capital is likely to get even hotter today, the All-Russian Research Institute for Hydrometeorological Information said on its website. The air temperature was 34.8 degrees as of 1:50 p.m.
Forest fires blazed in 282 spots across Russia as of 6:00 a.m., covering 52,060 hectares (about 129,000 acres), according to the Emergency Situations Ministry. In all, 575 wildfires were burning, including 34 in peat bogs drained during the Soviet era for agriculture, the ministry said on its website. Since the start of the fire season, 418,000 hectares have burned, the ministry said.
“The fires will increase sharply if the heat wave continues,” Nikolai Shmatkov, the World Wildlife Fund’s forest program expert in Moscow, said by telephone today. “The peak is still ahead.”
Entire villages in the Mordovia and Ryazan regions in central Russia have fallen to fires, state broadcaster Rossiya 24 reported. A fire-fighting train arrived in Mordovia too late to save one village after strong winds fuelled the flames.
Moscow is enveloped in gray haze from burning peat bogs outside the city. The concentration of poisonous carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons in the air increased by as much as 30 percent from yesterday, Alexei Popikov, a Moscow-based analyst at the state environmental monitoring agency, said on state radio Vesti FM. Central Moscow is among the worst-affected areas, though people across the capital should limit the time they spend outdoors, he said.
The heat wave has also hit Russia’s economy, with drought damage to 10.1 million hectares, or 32 percent of all land under cultivation, Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik said on July 23. The ministry has declared weather-related emergencies in 23 crop-producing regions.
Fires erupted on four wheat and barley fields in central Russia overnight, according to Rossiya 24. Russia, the world’s third-biggest wheat exporter, will harvest about 80 million metric tons of grain this season, 17 percent less than last year, according to Moscow-based researcher SovEcon.
Grain prices rose as much as 33 percent last week on drought concerns, SovEcon said on its website. Grain prices may double this year because of the drought, according to the Grain Producers’ Union.
Unusually high temperatures have contributed to record deaths by drowning across Russia, which increased by 688 in the past three weeks, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported on July 23, citing Emergency Situations Ministry data. Most of those who drowned were intoxicated, the government’s newspaper of record said.
Another 47 people died in the last 24 hours, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry.