From: Alfred Kueppers, Reuters
Published July 30, 2010 07:05 AM

Wildfires sweep central Russia

Forest fires swept across central Russia on Friday, killing at least eight people and forcing the evacuation of thousands during the hottest summer since records began 130 years ago.

Fanned by strong winds, raging fires ripped through woods and fields already scorched by the heatwave. The emergencies ministry said 866 square km, an area about the size of Berlin, was on fire in hundreds of peat and forest blazes.

"We don't know where to go," said Galina Shibanova, 52, standing outside the charred remains of her family home in the town of Maslovka in the Voronezh region, about 500 km (300 miles) south of Moscow.

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A heatwave has engulfed European parts of Russia and Siberia since June, destroying crops and pushing thousands of farmers to the verge of bankruptcy.

In an indication of the seriousness of the situation, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin canceled planned meetings in Moscow to fly to Nizhny Novgorod, where at least 540 homes were destroyed, for an emergency meeting with local officials.

Television pictures showed a crowd of women surrounding the prime minister, demanding to know if the government would pay to rebuild their houses. "Don't worry, don't worry," said Putin. "I promise you the village will be fully rebuilt."

One woman said: "We are very thankful to you." Putin then embraced her and kissed her on the cheek.

Nizhny Novgorod residents earlier fought flames with buckets of water as neighbors scrambled to rescue furniture from their burning houses.

Photo shows a man sitting on the ground while a house burns due to severe heat, outside the town of Vyksa, some 150 km (93 miles) south-west of the Volga city of Nizhny Novgorod, July 29, 2010.

Credit: REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE66T1BI20100730

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