Russia’s emergency chief tells president that some wildfires are out of control

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Russia admits some wildfires are out of control

KADANOK, Russia — Some of the devastating wildfires sweeping western Russia are out of control, Russia’s emergency chief said Tuesday, as fears grew there were not enough firefighters to battle them.

Tens of thousands of troops and volunteers were helping some 10,000 firefighters battle blazes in more than a dozen western Russian provinces, seven of which were under a state of emergency.

Their efforts had saved more than 300 towns and villages from destruction in the last day, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said, according to Russian media.

“But in some places it is getting out of control,” Shoigu was quoted as telling President Dmitry Medvedev during a meeting near the southern city of Sochi.

His words contradicted days of reassurances by his subordinates that the fires were under control. So far, they have killed 40 people and destroyed nearly 2,000 homes, as they tore through hundreds of villages in a matter of minutes, taking locals by surprise.

The ministry criticized local officials on Tuesday for not doing enough to stem the blazes, despite Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warning earlier that those who did not respond adequately risked losing their jobs.

“Everyone must realize the measure of their responsibility,” said Vladimir Stepanov of the head of Emergencies Ministry’s crisis center. Municipal authorities “must mobilize all their forces, not just sit and wait for fire brigades to arrive.”

The weather this week will not likely help the effort, as temperatures in Moscow and to the south and east were forecast to reach 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit).

Putin said Tuesday he would personally supervise the reconstruction of fire-ravaged homes via video cameras to be installed at each construction site, and would broadcast the images to the government website.

Putin has promised new housing before winter for those made homeless, as well as 200,000 rubles ($6,700) in compensation.

Victims have expressed outrage that more wasn’t done ahead of time to repel the advancing infernos.

“It was a nightmare,” said Margarita Sholokhova, pacing forlornly near the remains of her home in the village of Kadanok, 90 miles (150 kilometers) southeast of Moscow.

“There were too many fires and not enough firefighters. We stayed in our house until the last possible minute, but the fire came and covered the whole village like a hat,” she said.

Four brick walls and a heavy iron stove of her modest provincial house were all that remained after wildfires swept through Kadanok three days ago. Her mother’s house next door was also among the dozen homes wiped out in the town, but a dozen others escaped damage.

Trenches are being dug and trees felled around several nuclear facilities, news agencies reported.

At the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in Sarov, 300 miles (485 kilometers) east of Moscow, fire reportedly breached the territory’s perimeter Monday. The flames were being doused by water-bearing planes, and hundreds of firefighters were working to keep the flames from any facilities.

The country’s nuclear chief, Sergei Kiriyenko, flew to Sarov on Tuesday to oversee firefighting efforts, Russian news agencies said.

Associated Press writers David Nowak and Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report from Moscow.

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