About 30 people have died in the last three days as massive forest fires wiped out villages and vast areas of woodland in Russia, state television reported today.
Officials insisted some of the worst blazes were under control but fires were still afflicting at least 14 regions, with the Voronezh and Nizhny Novgorod provinces the worst affected, Rossiya-24 TV reported.
Moscow and other regions are currently suffering their hottest summer since records began 130 years ago.
In Voronezh city, which has 850,000 residents and is 300 miles south of Moscow, half a village was reduced to ash and stunned locals were sifting through the dust for possessions to salvage.
Fires that encircled Voronezh city earlier this week were not visible today, as officials reported they had been brought under control. Thick plumes of smoke from distant blazes were drifting into the city centre, however, where hotels housed some of the newly created refugees.
Across Russia, fire has destroyed 1,200 homes – thought to be mostly provincial village dwellings – said Yelena Chernova, an emergencies ministry spokeswoman.
Thousands of people have been forced to flee as blazes left their houses in ruins and filled the air with smog and ash.
Five people, including one firefighter, were killed by wildfires in Voronezh, and six residents and a firefighter died when a fire swept through the village of Mokhovoye in the Moscow region. The other deaths were in the Nizhny Novgorod, Ryazan and Lipetsk regions, all south or east of Moscow.
More than 10,000 firefighters were among the almost 250,000 people involved in tackling the fires, emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying yesterday.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday visited Verkhnyaya Vereya, a village where all 341 homes were burned to the ground and five residents were killed.
The village, one of three hamlets destroyed around Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s fifth-largest city some 300 miles east of Moscow, looked like a ghost town coated in grey ash.
The Kremlin yesterday mobilised the army to help as fires raged over 214,136 acres of woodland and peat bog.