Thick smog covers Moscow as hundreds of firefighters battle blaze in Ruazan region

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Thick smog blanketed Moscow on Thursday as it blew in from nearby forest fires, which the national forestry agency said were made worse by neglectful local authorities.

Hundreds of firefighters and several aircraft were battling the blazes in the Ryazan region, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) southeast of Moscow, the emergencies ministry said.

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The Federal Forestry Agency accused the region’s authorities of downplaying the scale of the fires and delaying an adequate response.

“The forestry authorities of the Ryazan region and its nature areas let the situation with the forest fires slip and hid its real scale,” the agency told the RIA Novosti news agency.

The region’s governor Pavel Malkov said Wednesday that over 800 hectares (1,980 acres) had been affected by the fires.

But the international environmental group Greenpeace put the figure at over 3,300 hectares.

“There is a high probability that the fires were caused by human action. And the persistent heat and drought are creating favorable conditions for the fire to spread,” Greenpeace said Wednesday.

Moscow and the surrounding regions have seen several weeks with little rainfall and temperatures averaging 25 Celsius (77 Fahrenheit), which are expected to climb the coming days.

Strong winds have fanned the fires, making them worse.

Greenpeace said the fires were burning through an area already affected by serious fires in 2010, which caused weeks of suffocating smog in Moscow.

The organization warned that Russia suffers from many fires every year, but they rarely get the same attention as the ones that affect the capital.

“Hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest (burn) and people in remote villages are living in smog for months,” Greenpeace’s Kosacheva said.

Massive fires have swept through Russia’s vast territory in recent years, particularly impacting Siberia, the Arctic and the Far East.

The blazes, which are increasingly frequent, are exacerbated by low rainfall and heat waves that scientists have linked to climate change.

Each summer, these fires release huge plumes of noxious smoke that suffocate towns and cities as far as hundreds of kilometers away.

In July 2010, Moscow was suffocated by smoke from peat bog fires resulting in an unprecedented spike in respiratory health complaints and deaths.

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