Putin plans emergency meeting on forest fires

السبت 1431/8/19 هـ الموافق 2010/07/31 م واس
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Moscow, July 31, 2010, SPA -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called an emergency meeting with the governors of the regions devastated by the worst forest and peat fires that Russia has seen in decades, to be held on Monday in the capital Moscow.

"The situation remains tense," Putin noted.

The broadcaster Echo of Moscow reported Saturday that officials in 14 of Russia's regions have declared a state of emergency due to the fires, which have killed some 30 people, injured hundreds and left thousands homeless.

The situation on Saturday worsened in many regions of Russia, especially in the centre of Russia's European half, the Interfax news agency quoted the head of the national emergency centre, Vladimir Stepanov, as saying.

"Russia burns!" the Moscow-based newspaper Kommersant proclaimed as the fires, which are expected to cause billions in damage, increasingly took on the shape of a national catastrophe.

July has been the hottest month on record, with temperatures averaging 35 degrees Celsius for weeks in many regions. Russian firefighters have blamed a lack of rain for the spread of the forest fires. Meteorologists don't expect any relief in coming days, dpa reported.

Thousands of emergency services workers continued to fight more than 60 blazes across Russia on Saturday. Hundreds of smaller "islands of fire" are also plaguing the country, the Civil Defence Ministry said on its website.

The area surrounding the capital Moscow, which at one point had some 20 forest and peat fires raging, saw a slight improvement on Saturday. The capital's more than 10 million residents have had to contend with heavily polluted air due to the peat fires.

Rescuers have brought dozens of children to safety in the worst-hit areas. The destruction is reported to be especially bad in the region of Nizhny Novgorod, some 400 kilometers east of Moscow.

Thousands of people have lost all of their belongings, as entire villages have gone up in flames. Many of the houses in the Russian provinces are made out of wood, making them particularly vulnerable.

Putin promised those affected that they will have access to new apartments, which are to be ready for move-in by October.

More than 120,000 hectares of forest have also been destroyed.

The Civil Defence Ministry has deployed helicopters, planes, bulldozers and trains with large water tanks. President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday also ordered more than 2,000 soldiers with heavy equipment to join the fight against the fires.

18:46 LOCAL TIME 15:46 GMT