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Russian wildfires leave 28 dead, thousands homeless

By the CNN Wire Staff
A Russian woman surveys the remains of her burnt out home in Voronezh on August 1, 2010.
A Russian woman surveys the remains of her burnt out home in Voronezh on August 1, 2010.
  • NEW: Two firefighters are among the dead, officials say
  • More than 2,800 people left homeless by wildfires
  • 28 people have been killed
  • The fires are among the worst to hit the region

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- At least 28 people have been killed and thousands left homeless by wildfires sweeping through western Russia, authorities said Saturday.

The Russian government said it has sent some 240,000 people to fight the blazes, which are among the worst ever to hit the region, the Interfax news agency reported. Two firefighters were among the dead, the Itar-Tass news agency reported, citing the Emergency Ministry.

The fires have destroyed 1,257 homes across 14 regions, the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations said. It said 2,825 people have been left homeless.

A hot, dry summer has been a key factor in the fires, drying out large parts of land and igniting the peat bogs that lie all over central Russia.

Video: Picking throgh what's left after fires
Video: Wildfires sweeping through western Russia
  • Russia
  • Wildfires
  • Weather

The government has sent 226 aircraft to fight the fires, Sergei Shaposhnikov, the head of the civil defense department at the Emergency Situations Ministry, told Interfax.

Latest figures from the ministry showed some 121,500 hectares (300,105 acres) of forest were burning Saturday. There were also 18 peat bog fires.

More than 3,000 people evacuated from fire-stricken areas are being housed at 12 temporary settlements, Interfax reported.

Shaposhnikov told Interfax the weather forecast made him pessimistic about the possibility the situation might improve in the near future.

"Dry weather will last for at least several more days in both the Central Federal District and the Volga Federal District, with temperature reaching 33 Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit), and it could reach even 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the Nizhny Novgorod region," he said.

The fires are the worst ever to hit the European part of Russia, the region west of the Ural Mountains, the RIA-Novosti news agency said.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the Defense Ministry on Friday to use the military to help tackle the fires, the president's spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, told the Interfax news agency.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu flew Friday to Nizhny Novgorod, where Putin called on local officials to step down because they had been accused of a "chaotic and uncoordinated" response.

Then on Saturday, the head of a local government in a central Russian district where 12 people died in wildfires resigned, according to RIA-Novosti. Alexei Sokolov's resignation has yet to be accepted.

Putin also said the families of those who died in wildfires would each receive 1 million rubles ($33,000) in compensation. He also said the government would allocate around 3 million rubles ($100,000) to rebuild the destroyed homes.

Temperatures across much of western and central Russia have topped 95 Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) during the past five weeks, RIA-Novosti said.

Moscow hit a temperature of 39 Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) on Thursday, the highest temperature since records began in 1879.

CNN's Arkady Irshenko contributed to this report.