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Forest fires south of Moscow flare up amid heatwave, officials say

file photo: a firefighter works to extinguish a forest fire in yakutia
A specialist of the local forest protection service works to extinguish a forest fire near the village of Magaras in the region of Yakutia, Russia July 17, 2021. Picture taken July 17, 2021. REUTERS/Roman Kutukov/File Photo

Forest fires raging south of Moscow have intensified, Russian authorities said on Monday as residents of the capital complained of a sharp smell of smoke pervading the air.

Since early August fires have been raging across the Ryazan region, some 200 km (125 miles) southeast of Moscow, where officials have been scrambling personnel to put them out.

Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, said the city had sent equipment and personnel to the Ryazan region but that their efforts had not been enough to contain the blazes.

“The fires have flared up,” TASS news agency quoted Sobyanin as saying during a visit to Ryazan. “There are a large number of blazes across a large area, crown fires and areas that are difficult to reach.”

Moscow residents said smoke could be smelled in the city centre on Monday morning before dissipating later in the day.

In separate comments, the region’s acting governor, Pavel Malkov, described the situation as tense.

“Unfortunately there is no rain and none is expected, winds and temperatures remain high,” TASS quoted him as saying. “Of course this contributes to the fires spreading.”

He said that two settlements, Olgino and Golovanovo, were in danger and that residents have been evacuated.

Temperatures are expected to climb as high as 32 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit) in Moscow this week. The Russian capital recorded its highest temperature, 38.2 C (100.8 F), in 2010 when a massive forest fire covered the city in a thick layer of smog.

Wildfires have intensified in Russia in recent years due to hotter weather caused by climate change.

Environmentalists fear that fires and high temperatures could thaw the Siberian permafrost and peatlands, releasing carbon that has been stored in the frozen tundra.

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