Russia Fights Wildfires Amid Drought; Moscow Swelters

Russian emergency crews battled 282 wildfires covering 52,060 hectares (about 129,000 acres) across Russia amid a drought that led the government to declare weather-related emergencies in 23 crop-producing regions.

In all, 575 wildfires were burning as of 12:07 p.m., including 34 in peat bogs drained during the Soviet era for agriculture, the Emergency Situations Ministry said on its website. Since the start of the fire season, 418,000 hectares have burned, the ministry said.

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 mercury rose as high as 35.5 degrees in the capital today, the All-Russian Research Institute for Hydrometeorological Information said on its website.

“The situation is complicated,” Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today. Additional steps to prevent forest fires “must be taken immediately and in the longer term,” he said, according to the ministry’s website.

Shoigu said people were forbidden to enter forests in 32 of Russia’s regions to reduce the risk of fire, “allowing us to avoid serious losses to the economy, transportation infrastructure and oil and gas pipelines.”

Heat Wave

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.

“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.”

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 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 July 23.

Grain Prices

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.

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