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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - August 23, 2002: Fires in Russia - 2002-08-22

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Clouds of thick smoke have spread across some of Russia’s largest cities. The smoke has affected millions of people. Russian officials say it is the thickest smoke to cover the area in thirty years.

Most of the smoke has been caused by forest fires and peat bog fires. Peat is decaying plant material. When it is dry, it burns very easily. It is often used as fuel.

Forest and peat bog fires have burned more than one-million hectares of land in Russia this summer. Hundreds of firefighters and emergency workers have been sent to fight the fires. Russia’s Emergency Situation Ministry also has sent helicopters and planes to assist in the effort. The peat bog fires are most severe in the Shatura area, southeast of Moscow.

Peat bog fires are hard to put out. That is because flames follow the layers of peat as far as fifteen meters into the earth. Several fires start every day. And they spread quickly. The fires threaten homes and forests.

Peat bog fires are common in Moscow and other large cities in Russia. This year, however, the number of fires has increased because of the long period of hot weather in the area. There also has been little rain or wind.

Smoke from the fires has increased the amount of carbon dioxide gas in the air in parts of Moscow. Environmental officials say the carbon dioxide levels are twenty percent higher than acceptable levels.

Health officials in Moscow say the increased pollutants have caused people to have headaches, watery eyes and increased tiredness. They have urged people with breathing or heart problems to stay indoors or leave the city if possible. However, officials say no severe health effects have been reported so far.

Government officials say structures will be built to redirect rivers in an effort to flood the land. The canals are expected to be operating by next year.

In nineteen-seventy-two, similar hot, dry weather also led to fires in peat bogs in the same area. The smoke covered the area for weeks.

Emergency workers have prevented the current fires from causing widespread destruction. But they can do little to prevent the thick smoke. Weather experts say rain, wind and lower temperatures are the only ways to stop the fires.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.