Temperatures drop, number of fires declines in Russia
Russian officials reported a sharp drop in the number of fires burning around the country on Thursday, with falling temperatures a contributing factor, dpa reported.
The Civil Defence Ministry reported some 300 fires, down one-third from the day before, covering some 10,000 hectares, according to the Ria Novosti news agency.
Crisis centre chief Vladimir Stepanov said that a state of emergency previously called by President Dmitry Medvedev had now been lifted in the last four regions, while the Defence Ministry planned to take thousands of soldiers off firefighting duty.
Civil Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu, meanwhile, compared the fight against the worst wildfires in Russia's history to a "war." He blamed sloppiness for some of the disaster, saying that "one main reason for the escalation was the tardy notification about fires."
But Shoygu rejected accusations by critics that the government was concealing the true extent of the catastrophe.
"We are deceiving no one," he said.
He also noted that the "most difficult situation" had emerged in the area surrounding the Sarov nuclear centre, some 400 kilometres east of the capital Moscow. The nearby forest, which is off-limits to the public, had not been maintained for years, he said.
The head of the Rosatom nuclear corporation, Sergey Kiriyenko, said during a meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that all fires in the vicinity of nuclear facilities have been extinguished.
Measurements taken in the areas contaminated after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster showed no elevated pollution readings after the fires, he added.
In Moscow, meanwhile, temperatures fell after two months of searing, record-setting heat. Thermometers were showing 25 degrees Celsius after weeks of readings of 35 degrees and higher.
But authorities warned of continuing toxic smog levels in the air as some fires continued to burn in the Moscow region.
Despite the drop in the number of fires, there were still 160,000 firefighters on duty.
The forest and peat bog fires have so far destroyed some 900,000 hectares of land. Thousands of people lost their homes as entire villages burned down. Official accounts put the number of dead at over 50, but aid organizations believe the figure is much higher.
Media have estimated that the fires caused the equivalent of 32 billion dollars in damage.