MOSCOW – Heavy smoke from raging wildfires covered the Russian city of Yakutsk and 50 other Siberian towns and settlements Sunday, temporarily halting operations at the city's airport.
Russia has been plagued by widespread forest fires, blamed on unusually high temperatures and the neglect of fire safety rules, with the Sakha-Yakutia region in northeastern Siberia being the worst affected.
Local emergency officials said 187 fires raged in the region on Sunday, and the total area engulfed by blazes has grown by 100,000 hectares (about 247,000 acres) in the past 24 hours.
“The situation with wildfires in our republic is very difficult. I repeat that we are experiencing the driest summer in the past 150 years in Yakutia, and the month of June was the hottest on record. This, together with the dry thunderstorms that occur nearly daily in our republic, brought about significant wildfires," Aysen Nikolayev, Yakutia's governor, told reporters.
Smoke from the fires covered 51 towns, settlements and cities in the region, including the capital Yakutsk, forcing authorities to suspend all flights in and out of the city.
“We can’t see each other because of the smoke, our eyes are burning and overall the smoke is very dangerous for the health of us villagers," said Vasiliy Krivoshapkin, resident of Magaras. "We see on television planes that are dropping water on the burning forest but they aren’t sending these planes to help us for some reason. Why is there no help?”
Russia's Emergency Ministry said Sunday it had deployed two amphibious aircraft to Yakutia to help tackle the fires. More than 2,200 people are involved in the firefighting effort.
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