Photos by TASS
By Andrei Kozenko and Mariya Gutorova (Samara); Stanislav Zalugovsky (Nizhny Novgorod); Natalya Bashlykova (Ryazan); Olga Rannikh (Tula); Kommersant
A record-breaking heatwave sparked new fires in central Russia over the weekend, bringing losses to more than 4.6 billion rubles ($150 million. Voronezh, Ryazan, Tula and a number of other cities in Russia are shrouded in thick smog and the Far East has not been spared either. The Russian Orthodox Church has announced a campaign to raise funds for those affected by the fires.
Fires in the Central and Volga federal districts show no signs of abating, with 779 fires recorded on Friday and 774 on Sunday. More than 320 new forest fires were reported on the first day of August alone. The death toll climbed to 34, and 180,000 people are currently involved in the effort to put out the blazes. The Regional Development Ministry estimates total damage from the fires at over 4.6 billion rubles ($150 million).
The worst hit was the city of Togliatti, where a large fire in a park area between the Central and Avtozavodskoi districts, which are home to more than 400,000 people, was still blazing yesterday. On Saturday, a forest fire broke out in the suburb village of Portovy with a population of over 3,500 people, reaching towards Togliatti. In some parts of the city, visibility dropped to just a few yards, and it is hard to breathe. Hundreds of people called emergency services. Five rescuers suffered heatstroke, and several Togliatti residents were diagnosed with nervous exhaustion. More than 1,700 people were evacuated. Russia’s leading carmaker AvtoVAZ halted assembly lines until August 8 because of fires and abnormal heat.
A record number of peat and forest fires – 130 – was registered in the Moscow region on Sunday, according to the regional department of Emergency Ministry. Seven people have died there since the fires began, including one rescue worker. Areas bordering on the Ryazan and Tula regions are cloaked in thick smog, with visibility on some roads down to 30 yards. Pharmacies in Orekhovo-Zuyevo, Voskresensk and some other cities have sold out of face masks.
Russia’s Regional Development Ministry has published preliminary estimates for losses caused by the heat. Over 22,000 peat and forest fires have been reported in Russia since 1 June, affecting a total area of 557,000 hectares. The death toll stood at 34 as of August 2, including 14 people in the Nizhny Novgorod region, seven people in the Moscow region, five – in the Voronezh region, and four – in the Ryazan region, according to the Emergency Ministry. More than 86,000 people have been rescued by firefighters.
A total of 2,210 Russians have been left homeless by the blazes, and 1,800 buildings have been damaged in 14 regions of the country. More than 4.6 billion rubles ($150 million) will be needed to build and restore the buildings and infrastructure destroyed by the fires, the Regional Development Ministry calculated.
More than 1,000 Interior Ministry employees and 1,000 servicemen were deployed in the firefighting effort over the weekend. Residents of the affected areas are also helping to contain the fires. Unprecedented measures were taken in Tatarstan, where all residents who have served in the army were mobilised to patrol local forests.
The human factor remains one of the main reasons behind forest fires, with many residents ignoring warnings to stay out of the forests. Smouldering fires left behind, as well as forgotten glass bottles, which focus direct sunlight, start new fires.
By Alyona Chechel and Liliya Biryukova, Vedomosti
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin compared the prolonged heatwave scorching central Russia to such disasters as the Great Patriotic War and attacks by the nomadic tribes of the Pechenegs and the Cumans and German knights who “tortured Russia” in the Middle Ages, Putin said on Saturday.
The previous day, he signed a decree on cash allocations to those affected by the fires: 5 billion rubles will be allocated from the federal budget as compensation for those affected. The maximum amount of compensation is set at 3.2 million rubles ($170,000), including 100,000 rubles from the federal budget and another 100,000 from regional budgets in compensation for the destroyed property, 2 million rubles for building new housing and 1 million for restoring the necessary infrastructure. The families of fire victims will be paid 1 million each.
The Nizhny Novgorod and Voronezh regions will get the highest compensations of 2.5 billion and 1.07 billion rubles, respectively. Nizhny Novgorod region Governor Valery Shantsev promised that those affected would be able to receive 200,000 before the end of this week. In the Voronezh region, the situation is now under control, but the heat is expected to continue for another week, and the lists of those affected are being prepared, according to Governor Alexei Gordeyev.
“Over the past two days, it has been impossible to use aircraft due to high smog levels; assistance from other regions is coming in, we are expecting a large team from the Tambov region soon,” Ryazan region Governor Oleg Kovalyov said. The Rybnoye, Kasimov and Klepiki districts are hit hardest, but the amount of the losses is yet unclear.
In the Ivanovo and Moscow regions, authorities are preparing to announce contractors for the construction of new homes to replace those destroyed by fires. New housing must be ready by November 1, according to Oleg Rakitov, spokesman for the Ivanovo regional governor. Because of the tight schedule, reliable contractors will have to be chosen without tenders, said Andrei Barkovsky, press secretary for the Moscow regional governor. The new homes will be 100 square meters in size, priced at 30,000 rubles ($1,000) per 100 square meters.
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