Heat Wave, Wildfires Pummel Russia

BY Talea Miller  August 9, 2010 at 2:10 PM EST

Wearing face masks in Red Square; AFP/Getty Images
As wildfires and a record-setting heatwave continue to pummel Russia Monday, death rates in Moscow are also rising as residents navigate smoke-laden streets and record temperatures.

Heat stroke and complications from air quality have nearly doubled death rates in Moscow, from about 360 deaths a day to about 700, according to Moscow’s health department, The Associated Press reported. Carbon monoxide levels are two to three times higher than the level considered healthy.

Many Russians have taken to wearing facemasks when they leave their homes to protect themselves from the smog.

As some people take to the water to beat the heat, a spate of drownings has added to the skyrocketing death toll. Many of those who drowned were drunk, according to the Emergencies Ministry.

The head of Russia’s weather service, Alexander Frolov, said this summer’s temperatures could be the hottest in up to a millennium.

“In 1,000 years, neither we nor our ancestors have observed or recorded anything like this sort of heat,” he said in televised comments, reported Bloomberg News.

A satellite image released by NASA Monday showed large swaths of the region surrounding and south of Moscow experiencing land surface temperatures up to 12 degrees Celsius higher than average temperatures for the same dates between 2000 and 2008. Click for a larger view:

_slideshow.jpg” title=”Russia heatwave NASA” alt=”Russia heatwave July 2010; NASA image” class=”blog_main_horizontal” />

The heat and severe drought have triggered about 550 separate wildfires, mostly in western Russia, 25 of which are peat fires according to the BBC, which has a helpful diagram explaining why those are so hard to fight. There are about 40 fires still burning around Moscow, according to the Emergencies Ministry.

This NASA image from Saturday shows the coverage of the smoke around the city that’s forced airports to delay flights. The red outlines indicate fires that were still burning. Click for a larger view:

_slideshow.jpg” title=”Russia smoke NASA” alt=”Smoke over Moscow, Aug. 7; NASA image” class=”blog_main_horizontal” />

About 52 people have been killed by the fires since they began in late July. In the villages and towns overcome by fire, Russian citizens are outraged by the government’s emergency response, The Wall Street Journal reports, saying it wasn’t prepared to fight the fires and responded too late. Some Russians have tried to take matters into their own hands to prevent fires from spreading.

Fire in Golovanovo, Russia; AFP/Getty Images