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Fires in Russia

2002-8-22

This is the VOA SpecialEnglish ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Clouds of thick smoke have spread across some of Russia's largestcities. The smoke has affected millions of people. Russian officialssay it is the thickest smoke to cover the area in thirty years.

Most of the smoke has been causedby forest fires and peat bog fires. Peat is decaying plant material.When it is dry, it burns very easily. It is often used as fuel.

Forest and peat bog fires have burned more than one-millionhectares of land in Russia this summer. Hundreds of firefighters andemergency workers have been sent to fight the fires. Russia'sEmergency Situation Ministry also has sent helicopters and planes toassist in the effort. The peat bog fires are most severe in theShatura area, southeast of Moscow.

Peat bog fires are hard to put out. That is because flames followthe layers of peat as far as fifteen meters into the earth. Severalfires start every day. And they spread quickly. The fires threatenhomes and forests.

Peat bog fires are common in Moscow and other large cities inRussia. This year, however, the number of fires has increasedbecause of the long period of hot weather in the area. There alsohas been little rain or wind.

Smoke from the fires has increased the amount of carbon dioxidegas in the air in parts of Moscow. Environmental officials say thecarbon dioxide levels are twenty percent higher than acceptablelevels.

Health officials in Moscow say the increased pollutants havecaused people to have headaches, watery eyes and increasedtiredness. They have urged people with breathing or heart problemsto stay indoors or leave the city if possible. However, officialssay no severe health effects have been reported so far.

Government officials say structures will be built to redirectrivers in an effort to flood the land. The canals are expected to beoperating by next year.

In nineteen-seventy-two, similar hot, dry weather also led tofires in peat bogs in the same area. The smoke covered the area forweeks.

Emergency workers have prevented the current fires from causingwidespread destruction. But they can do little to prevent the thicksmoke. Weather experts say rain, wind and lower temperatures are theonly ways to stop the fires.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written byCynthia Kirk.