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Germany sends respirator masks to smog-choked Moscow

Germany is sending 100,000 respirator masks to Moscow where wildfires have led to a dramatic rise in toxic air pollution. As hundreds of fires rage around the city, residents are trying to escape the choking smog.

Moscow's St. Basil's Cathedral seen through the heavy smog, with people in the foreground

Carbon monoxide levels are far higher than accepted levels

Germany said it would fly 100,000 respirator masks to Moscow as air pollution from nearby forest fires rises to increasingly unbearable levels for residents.

The German Interior Ministry also promised additional equipment to help Russian emergency services fight some 840 separate blazes. Hoses, pumps and electricity generators were being assembled ready for transport late on Saturday.

Riding in a bus a woman wears a mask protecting her from smog

People have found their own solutions to endure the smog

"The respirator masks are a first part of this help," said Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere. "The civil defense authorities of the Russian federation have also asked for the provision of heavy technical equipment for the fire fighting.

"We continue to keep in close contact with the Russian authorities and the Russian embassy in Berlin and we will help where we are able to help," he added.

State air-pollution monitoring service Mosekomonitoring said that carbon-monoxide levels in the Moscow air were now 6.6 times higher than acceptable levels. In parts of the capital, visibility has been reduced to less than 50 meters with the smog not expected to lift until at least Wednesday.

'Truly extreme situation'

Leading Russian doctor Ivan Yurlov, from the organization League for the Nation's Health, expressed his concern to the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant.

"The situation is truly extreme. People are in circumstances under which they should not have to live," said Yurlov.

Residents were warned to stay indoors or leave the city altogether. Foreign package tours were sold out and there was a rush for trains tickets and planes out of Moscow, news agencies reported.

A firefighter looks at a blaze ahead of him in trees

German equipement is being sent to help with firefighting

Doctors warned of serious health problems, with hundreds of people arriving at hospitals complaining of smog-related ailments.

On city streets, people have tried to make breathing more bearable with masks of their own, including makeshift solutions such as damp towels and surgical masks. Simple surgical masks were of no help, city health official Leonid Lazebnik warned.

Worst recorded heat wave

The smoke has even penetrated the city's metro system, hose tunnels lie up to 85 meters under the surface. The situation is being exacerbated by the worst heat wave in the Moscow region since records began 130 years ago.

Around 7,000 troops have been drafted in to fight the fires alongside emergency services, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Military personnel dug an 8-kilometer (5-mile) trench to help prevent the fire from reaching a nuclear arms site in the Niznhy Novgorod region, Russian radio station Echo Moskvy reported on Saturday.

The fires have killed more than 50 people, according to government figures, although aid agencies expect the final death toll will be far higher. Hundreds have been injured, with thousands made homeless.

Author: Richard Connor (dpa/AFP/Reuters)

Editor: Kyle James

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