Russian Fires Spread to 500 Square Miles as Wind Picks Up Amid Record Heat

Russia is experiencing intensifying wildfires amid a heat wave and strong winds, the country’s Emergency Situations Ministry said.

More than 128,000 hectares (500 square miles) were burning as of 6 a.m. Moscow time today, the ministry said on its website. New fires are appearing as temperatures in central Russia approach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and winds reach 20 meters per second (45 miles per hour).

Fourteen regions have declared a state of emergency after wildfires engulfed entire villages, leaving 28 people dead and thousands homeless, state-run broadcaster Rossiya-24 reported today. Almost 30,000 rescuers are battling the fires, aided by 18 aircraft, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Moscow has already broken several heat records this season and a drought in agricultural regions has scorched more than 10 million hectares of cropland. High temperatures of at least 36 degrees Celsius are forecast for Moscow in the coming week, according to Gidromettsentr, the state weather service.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is due to meet with governors of regions affected by the fires tomorrow. He traveled to the Nizhny Novgorod region east of Moscow on July 30, promising inhabitants of the village of Verkhnyaya Vereya that they’d receive state compensation and their homes would be rebuilt by winter.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who spoke to Putin by phone from his residence outside Moscow, ordered the Regional Development Ministry to prepare a program to rebuild houses, according to the Kremlin’s website. The Emergency Situations Ministry reports that 1,257 homes have been destroyed by wildfires.

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