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Russia beginning to win battle against wildfires

Strong firefighting efforts have caused a drop in the number of fires threatening western Russia. Meanwhile, authorities have said radiation levels have not increased despite wildfires reaching Chernobyl-affected areas.

A firefighter spraying water in a forest

The firefighting effort seems to be helping

Russia is starting to deal more effectively with the wildfires which have been ravishing its western regions, senior government officials said on Thursday.

Vladimir Stepanov, head of the national crisis center, told Russia's Interfax news agency that the area of burning land had gotten smaller in the last 24 hours, and there had been less fires With 562 fires covering around 80,000 hectares (197,684 acres) of forest and peat land , the number of fires was down more than 10 percent from Wednesday.

Officials also said environmental radiation levels had not shown any increase despite fires hitting areas contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

"A worsening of the radiation situation and a growth in the background radiation as a result of a transfer of materials from the fires have not been recorded anywhere in Russia," Valery Dyadyuchenko, the deputy head of Russian state weather forecaster Rosgidromet, told Interfax.

An approaching forest fire seen through the barbed wire fence of Russia's top nuclear facility, Sarov

Fires are perilously close to the outer fence of the Sarov nuclear facility

Russia’s state forest watchdog admitted on Wednesday that fires had reached contaminated parts of the western Bryansk region, sparking fears that radioactive particles would be released into the air.

Strong winds on Thursday released Moscow from the thick smog which has clouded its skies for much of the last week. The number of fires close to the capital fell by more than a quarter in one day, as emergency services stepped up their firefighting efforts, flooding peat bogs around the city.

Nuclear sites still in danger

More than 3,400 firefighters are battling to douse wildfires close to Russia's leading nuclear research facility in Sarov, a town in the Nizhny Novgorod province. A spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry confirmed that two special firefighting trains, with large amounts of water and high-pressure hoses, had been sent to aid efforts at the site.

No blazes had been recorded at the research center itself, but a nearby nature reserve has been on fire for the last week. Two soldiers were killed while trying to put out a nearby fire on Monday.

Ukrainian authorities have played down fears over a two-hectare peat bog fire burning just 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of the Chernobyl site.

"The fire presents no danger," said Viktoria Ruban, spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Emergency Situations Ministry. "There is no threat."

The fire started on August 9, and is expected to be extinguished on Thursday or Friday, Ruban added.

Dry grass burning near the town of Voronezh, south of Moscow

Record temperatures and minimal rainfall have left parched fields prone to fires

End not yet in sight

Environmentalists and nuclear experts have suggested that forest fires on contaminated land could result in radioactive particles blowing across central Europe.

"The particles could be transferred hundreds of kilometers depending on the weather conditions," said Alexei Yablokov, a founder of Greenpeace in the Soviet Union.

But Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection played down fears of Germany or western Europe being affected.

The smog which has covered Moscow could well return this weekend, with weather forecasts predicting hot and dry conditions, and no rain in sight.

Monitoring officials have said this is Russia’s hottest summer in a millennium. At least 54 people have been killed by wildfires in the last weeks.

Author: Thomas Sheldrick (AFP/dpa)

Editor: Martin Kuebler

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