Russian Firestorm: Forest Fires Cover Moscow In A Toxic Smog

As the fields and forests around Moscow continue to burn, a dense smog is slowly suffocating out life in the vibrant Russian capital. Flights at Moscow's international airports have been grounded, and the toxic smog continues to seep into homes and offices, increasing the health risks for all residents. Last week, dozens of incoming flights were diverted from Moscow's Domodedovo and Vnukovo airports, as the forest fire smog reduced runway visibility to 200 meters. To cope with the smog, Moscow's other main airport, located across the city opposite the fires, freed up tarmac space to receive incoming planes. Other flights were diverted to St. Petersburg and to Kazan, a city 800 kilometers east of Moscow. Unfortunately, while many airlines have been able to cope, many of Russia's citizens have been caught in a huff. In Moscow, pedestrians struggled to continue with their normal way of life, trudging through the Russian streets with their faces hidden by surgical masks and water-soaked cloths. Much of the Russian capital smelt like burning smoke, and visibility was restricted to a few dozen meters. Of concern was the volume of recorded airborne pollutants within the capital. According to media reports, carbon monoxide readings within Moscow were four times higher than average - the highest ever in the city's recorded history. With no end in site to the fire season, many experts expect that the toxic smoke blanketing the city and surrounding regions could thicken.

Across the capital, while many continue to pray for relief, few residents hold out hope that change will come. Wind in and around Moscow is absent, enabling the smoke to hang and fester. Many residents complained of eye irritation, and even those lucky enough to find masks seemed frustrated. Despite the fog, many businesses have asked their workers to continue, a position that has angered many residents. Debate continues to rage regarding the best way to deal with the smog. As of Friday, more than 500 forest fires were burning across Russia, with fires predominantly situated in western Russia. Russia continues to experience its most intense heat wave in 130 years of record keeping, and 31 forest fires and 15 peat-bog fires were burning in the Moscow region alone.

To date, at least 52 people have died and 2,000 homes have been destroyed because of the forest fires. On Friday, the Russian government admitted that the the 10,000 firefighters battling the blazes aren't enough, a sentiment echoed by many village residents across Western Russia who saw their villages and cities decimated by the fires. In a plan to minimize further damage, Russian workers evacuated explosives from military facilities, and the government sent many planes, helicopters and soldiers to help control blazes smoldering around the country's top nuclear research facility in Sarov, 480 kilometers east of Moscow. Tragically, while many pray for rain, next weeks forecast offers little hope. Across Russia, temperatures are expected to approaching or exceed 38 degrees Celsius through the week. To cope with the disaster, Russian health officials have urged any individuals having to go outdoors to don face masks, and cautioned individuals with asthma, bronchitis, lung disease or heart problems to avoid going outside at all. The government also pressed all Russians to conserve water. Currently, river and reservoir levels are down across the country by more than 20 percent, a drop due mainly to the increased demands for firefighting water.

Photo Credit: Mikhail Metzel