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Russia continues frantic fight against perilous wildfires

08-05-2010 15:32 BJT Special Report:Forest Fires Ravage Russia |

MOSCOW, Aug. 4 (Xinhua) -- Russian authorities and firefighters are continuing their fierce battle against rampant wildfires that have shrouded Moscow in choking smog and thrown nuclear facilities into danger.

As the confirmed death toll rose to 48 in the deadliest outbreak of wildfires in nearly four decades, President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday cut short his traditional summer holiday in the southern resort of Sochi and returned to Moscow to supervise the fire-fighting efforts.

Visibility stood at merely 300 meters in the early morning in central Moscow, as thick clouds of pungent smoke from nearby forests and peat bog fires engulfed the capital overnight and raised local pollution indicators to critical levels.

Municipal authorities and health experts have urged local residents to take preventative measures, such as wearing face masks when going out.

With the capital besieged by eye-stinging smog, Medvedev chaired an emergency meeting of the national security council that solely focused on the week-old wildfire crisis.

In a sign of his strong dissatisfaction, the president fired a string of senior navy officers for failing to prevent fires from devouring a military storage base outside Moscow last week and destroying office buildings, warehouses and aviation equipment.

"Despite the fact that we asked the Defence Ministry to help with extinguishing fires to help the civil population, in the majority of cases the ministry cannot even protect itself," Medvedev said.

"If something similar happens in other places and departments, I will act in the same way, without any pity," he added.

Meanwhile, in precaution against a potentially even graver disaster, thousands of firefighters, troops and emergency services personnel have been dispatched to protect a top-secret nuclear research center in the city of Sarov, which is still off limits to foreigners.

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