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Moscow cheers downpours but danger fires still blazing

Heavy downpours have cooled Moscow after weeks without rain and unprecedented heat, but wildfires are still raging around the Russian capital.

In the latest twist, a new blaze was spotted near the country's top nuclear research centre.

The city is largely free of the clouds of suffocating smog that affected it earlier, but meteorologists say smoke from burning forests and peat bogs may choke the city over the weekend if the wind changes.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said teams have reduced the area covered by wildfires. But more than 500 are burning across the country and around 14,000 firefighters are battling blazes around the Russian capital.

Russia is receiving help from the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Turkey, as well as Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Some have sent firefighting aircraft and personnel.

Russia has been battling the fires for nearly three weeks. A new wildfire started east of the nuclear research facility in Sarov, 300 miles east of Moscow. The blaze spread quickly, prompting firefighters in the region to call in reinforcements.

Earlier this month, wildfires around Sarov, the birthplace of Soviet nuclear weapons, prompted the state nuclear agency to move all explosive and radioactive material.


Another potential danger comes from wildfires in areas contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. However, authorities said all wildfires in the Chernobyl-affected regions have been quickly dealt with and radiation levels have remained normal.

The national weather service said yesterday it had dispatched a team of radiation experts to constantly monitor radiation levels.

The heat, unprecedented in 130 years of record-keeping, has cost Russia more than a third of its wheat crop. The government responded by banning wheat exports, sending soaring world grain prices to new highs.

Grain prices in Russia also have been rising despite the export ban. Officials in Moscow have registered a 10pc hike in bread pricest.

In north-western Spain a forest fire fanned by shifting gusts of wind killed two firemen.

The blaze broke out near a village of some 2,000 people in Pontevedra province, part of the normally cool and misty Galicia region. Crews brought it under control yesterday after the blaze charred 250 acres of forest.

In neighbouring Portugal, 33 wildfires were burning yesterday where authorities suspect many of the Portuguese fires were started deliberately. Police arrested three shepherds on suspicion of arson, raising to 15 the number of people arrested this summer.