MOSCOW – Vast sections of Russia were under a state of emergency Friday as more than 10,000 firefighters fought to save villages and forests from being reduced to ash and ember during the countrys hottest summer on record.
At least 25 deaths were reported in the past two days alone, and the Kremlin called out the army to help as fires raged over 214,136 acres of woodland and peat bog.
More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed and thousands of people have been forced to flee as blazes left their houses in smoldering ruins and filled the air with smog and ash.
Weeping women greeted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as he visited Verkhnyaya Vereya, a village where all 341 homes were burned to the ground and five residents were killed.
Before winter, each house will be restored, Putin told the distressed crowd. I promise – the village will be rebuilt.
One sobbing woman thanked him for his serious talk and promises of $6,500 in compensation for each villager, and Putin kissed her on the cheek.
Officials have declared a state of emergency in 27 of Russias 83 regions, with the hardest-hit being the Moscow region – which doesnt include the city itself – and other areas south and east of the capital.
In all, nearly 2.5 million acres of land have been consumed by wildfires so far this season.
Fires had all but encircled Voronezh, a city of 850,000 people 300 miles south of Moscow. The streets of Voronezh were filled with smog early Friday, and a giant wall of rising black smoke could be seen on the horizon. Officials later said they had contained the blaze, and locals said toward the evening the worst of the fires had been extinguished.
Weather experts say as global warming intensifies, Russians unaccustomed to such sweltering heat should brace for more summers like this. The mercury hit 100 in Moscow on Thursday, setting a record, and July was the hottest month ever recorded in Russia.
In 130 years of daily weather monitoring in Moscow, there has never been such a hot summer, said Alexei Lyakhov, director of Moscows Meteorological Service. This is not normal weather, this has never happened.
Some 24 million acres of grain crops – an area the size of Kentucky – have been destroyed by the heat wave, the Agriculture Ministry says.