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Record heat wave and fires prompt Moscow to open relief centers

By Mansur Mirovalev
Monday, August 9, 2010; A07

MOSCOW -- Moscow authorities on Sunday opened more than 120 "anti-smog" centers to give residents an escape from record-breaking heat and choking smoke from wildfires blazing around the capital. Dozens of flights were grounded.

Overwhelmed Muscovites can "get their breath back" in 123 air-conditioned rooms that have opened to the public in government buildings and hospitals, city official Vladimir Petrosyan said. Most apartments in Moscow lack air conditioning.

Emergency officials said they registered 49 wildfires around Moscow on Sunday, including 14 peat bog fires.

About 830 separate forest blazes were burning nationwide early Sunday -- slightly less than a few days earlier -- as the country endured its most intense heat wave in 130 years.

Daily highs have reached up to 100 degrees, compared with the summer average of 75, and there is no end in sight.

At least 52 people have died and more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed in the blazes. Russian officials have admitted that the 10,000 firefighters battling the fires aren't enough.

The Moscow Ecological Monitoring Service said the concentration of airborne pollutants such as carbon monoxide is more than three times normal levels.

The concentration appeared likely to decrease by Monday, it said.

Some Moscow residents reacted to weeks of heat and smog with apocalyptic pessimism. "I think it is the end of the world," said Vera Savinova, a 52-year-old administrator in a dental clinic. "Our planet warns us against what would happen if we don't care about nature."

Many reported health complications associated with the smoke. "I am feeling very bad," said Nikolay Zhukov, a 54-year-old asthmatic. "We can't open the windows because of the smoke, and we can't stay at home because it's too hot."

Moscow airports reported delays or diversions of about 90 flights Sunday because of low visibility, and emergency workers could not use planes and helicopters.

Authorities in the central Mordovia region said they were preparing the evacuation of two penal colonies in forested areas engulfed by wildfires. They did not specify the number of inmates.

Also Sunday, more than 40 elderly people were evacuated from a nursing home in the central Voronezh region, where fires have destroyed hundreds of houses and killed five people in recent weeks.

-- Associated Press

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