Smog increases as wildfires spread in Russia

A thick blanket of smog covered Russia`s capital disrupting air traffic at the two international airports as wildfires continued to spread across the country.

Updated: Aug 08, 2010, 16:03 PM IST

Moscow: A thick blanket of smog covered
Russia`s capital on Sunday, disrupting air traffic at the two
international airports as wildfires continued to spread across
the country.

"In the last twenty-four hours, 269 new wildfires have
flared up in Russia. As many as 276 wildfires have been
extinguished. Currently, 554 wildfires are raging on an area
of over 190,000 hectares," Gen Vladimir Stepanov, the Chief of
the Crisis Management Centre of the Emergency Situations
Ministry today said.

In an interview to state-run Rossiya 24 channel
Stepanov, however, said that in Sarov, the former Soviet
nuclear weapons factory-turned into Federal Nuclear Centre,
the wildfires have been completely extinguished.

Wildfires continued to rage across much of the central
part of European Russia as the country experienced an
unprecedented heat wave, with temperatures of up to and above
40 degrees Celsius, RIA Novosti reported.

The death toll in the blazes rose to 52 on Friday.

Yesterday, Moscow saw its worst air pollution in 2010,
with carbon monoxide levels being 6.5 times more than the
maximum allowable concentration. The concentration of other
toxic substances in the city air was nine times above the

This morning, the situation has slightly improved but
concentration of toxic substances still remains three times
more than the permissible level, Moscow Ecological Monitoring
Service said.

However, for the third day the dense smog has
disrupted the air traffic at Moscow`s Vnukovo and Domodedovo
international airports in the south-west and south of the
Russian capital, the only Sheremetyevo international airport
in the north is functioning normally due to better visibility.

Up to 2,000 passengers were stranded at Moscow`s
Domodedovo international airport when major delays hit their

A senior official of the civil aviation department
Sergei Neradko said that about 50 flights have been cancelled
and over two thousand passengers willing to fly out of Moscow
are stranded.

"The pilots take their independent decision to make an
instrumental landing in the poor visibility.

However, there is a certain minimum level of
visibility beyond, which the ground control bans even the
instrumental landing," Neradko explained.

Meanwhile, under scathing criticism Moscow Mayor Yuri
Luzhkov is cutting short his vacation abroad and is returning
home, ITAR-TASS reported.

The Russian health ministry said a total of 472 people
across Russia sought medical aid in connection with the
wildfires and 43 of them remain in hospitals.