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30 Killed In Forest Fires In European Part Of Russia

8/1/2010 11:00 PM ET

More than 30 people were killed after new forest fires raged across Central Russia threatening over 200 villages and towns as tens of thousands of firefighters on Sunday battled its worst wildfires in decades.

"Wildfires are threatening more than 200 villages in the Russian regions of Voronezh, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, as well as in the republic of Mordovia (Volga region)", chief of National Center for Crisis Situations Gen Vladimir Stepanov said.

"All together in the Volga federal district, 625 homes were gutted, in Voronezh - more than 200 homes have burned and more than 1,000 people were evacuated," general Stepanov said.

Separately, the emergency situations ministry said on Sunday that forest fires had engulfed more than 128,500 hectares across Russia, and added that it has mobilized almost 240,000 emergency workers to fight the blazes, along with 2,000 members of the armed forces.

Admitting that the situation has taken a sharp turn for the worse, the ministry blamed soaring temperatures of 40°C and strong winds, but insisted everything was under control.

The ministry is sending 100 paratroopers from Siberia, who are trained in fire-fighting, to the Nizhny Novgorod region, RIA Novosti reported.

Since July 29, in the Nizhny Novgorod region alone 575 homes were gutted and 1,500 people were evacuated. Emergency situation has been announced in 14 regions in Russia.

A hastily arranged meeting was called to take the stock of the situation as already 77 villages and towns were fully or partially turned into heaps of ashes.

"The situation we have with wildfires remains difficult, Thursday night and Friday morning we had to counter some grave consequences in some regions, the situation has stabilized a bit. However, on the whole, it remains grim," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said.

Over the last 24 hours, 1,257 homes were destroyed in the largest wildfire ever to hit the European part of Russia, he added.

The military, which is facing a daunting task of protecting its own arsenals and ammunition dumps from the wildfires, have joined the efforts to tackle the forest fires.

"We have put in everything we have, including all of our fire brigades," defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov told president Dmitry Dimitry Medvedev.

by RTT Staff Writer

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