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Germany

Merkel offers Russia help fighting wildfires

Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered German firefighting help to Russia, as the country tries to quell hundreds of wildfires. At least 50 people have been killed in the blazes, which look set to continue.

Local citizens attempt to extinguish a forest fire near the Russian village of Dolginino

Russia is losing its fight with the fires - and the hot weather

Chancellor Angela Merkel offered to help Russian efforts to put out hundreds of wildfires in a telephone conversation with President Dmitry Medvedev late on Wednesday.

Merkel expressed "solidarity and the German readiness to help in the face of the devastating fires," according to a German government statement.

The Russian head of state was said to have thanked Merkel for her "display of solidarity," going on to say the relevant Russian authorities would assess whether German help could be useful. The Germans did not specify the exact nature of the aid offered to Moscow by Merkel.

Italy has already come to the Kremlin's aid, putting two specialized firefighting planes at Russia's disposal.

At least 50 dead

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands during a press conference

It's unclear how much of a helping hand Merkel offered

Russia's emergencies ministry says 162,000 emergency workers have been deployed to try to douse the flames, as hundreds of fires continue blazing around the country.

"In the last day, the situation in Russia, in particular in the Volga and central regions, has remained complicated," said the head of the ministry's crisis center, Vladimir Stepanov.

"In the course of the last 24 hours, 373 fires have appeared and 254 have been extinguished. As a result there are now 589 wildfires burning in Russia, covering an area of 196,000 hectares."

The official death toll rose to at least 50 on Thursday, after a corpse was discovered in a burned-down house and another victim died of his injuries in hospital.

The worst fires in Russia's modern history have been triggered by a protracted heat wave, which is showing no sign of easing; temperatures are forecast to again hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) later on Thursday, with hot weather expected to persist nationwide for at least five days.

Military blaze

Riding in a bus a woman wears a mask protecting her from a thick blanket of smog covering Moscow

The fires have led to high levels of smog in Moscow

President Medvedev has issued official warnings to Russia's top two naval commanders and sacked a number of high-ranking officers, after they failed to prevent one of the fires spreading to a military base last week.

The staff headquarters, financial department, 13 warehouses containing aeronautical equipment and 17 storage areas containing vehicles were all destroyed by the blaze at the naval logistics base to the southeast of Moscow.

Russian officials have opened a criminal inquiry into the issue, investigating the possibility of "major damage through negligence."

Meanwhile, firefighters outside Moscow are struggling to keep the blazes clear of the country's top secret nuclear research facility in Sarov, a city foreigners cannot enter. An unnamed official is quoted by the Russian Interfax news agency as saying "the situation is under control."

Author: Mark Hallam (AFP/apn/dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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