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Firefighters gain control over wildfires in Russia

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Wildfires leave destruction in Russia
  • About half of the hundreds of wildfires in Russia are extinguished or contained
  • At least 28 people -- including two firefighters -- are dead
  • In one village, all 500 residents have been evacuated, and nearly every house is burned

(CNN) -- With nearly 86,000 people evacuated from fire-ravaged regions, Russian authorities said Sunday that firefighters were gaining control over blazes sweeping across thousands of acres in western Russia.

"Despite complicated weather conditions, the situation is under control thanks to preventive measures and efforts taken by the Russian Emergencies Ministry," a spokesman for the ministry told the Itar-Tass news agency.

At least 28 people have been killed and thousands left homeless by the wildfires, which are among the worst ever to hit western Russia. No fire-related deaths were reported since Friday, officials said Sunday.

Two firefighters were among the dead, Itar-Tass reported, citing the Emergency Ministry.

Latest figures from the ministry showed that 128,500 hectares (317,530 acres) were burned or had burned, and 774 "hotbeds of wildfire" were counted as of 6 a.m. Sunday. About half the fires had either been extinguished or contained, the ministry spokesman said.

"The most difficult situation with wildfires remains in the Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir and Voronezh regions and the Republic of Mordovia, where fires threaten several populated settlements," the ministry's information department said.

Video: Not much left after fires
Video: Fires sweeping through Russia
  • Russia
  • Wildfires
  • Dmitry Medvedev

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.

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

The fires have destroyed more than 1,200 homes, the ministry said, and nearly 5,000 people have been left homeless.

CNN's Matthew Chance reported from the village of Maslovka, Russia, near Voronezh, that almost every house in the village of 500 people had burned to the ground. All the residents of Maslovka had been evacuated to nearby hotels.

A resident of Maslovka named Nina told Chance she had returned to the village after the fire to sift through the rubble of the house where she was born.

For 50 years, she said, she lived under the same roof. A few days ago, the wildfires were swept by high winds to the village and quickly engulfed her house. Now there was nothing left.

Even the clothes she was wearing were not hers -- they had been given to her by a neighbor.

As Nina told her story, an elderly woman walked from behind a broken wall, wailing with tears. Nina said the woman was her mother, devastated she had lost the home where she raised her family.

Russia's government has vowed to compensate the more than 1,870 families whose houses have been burned down.

Amid complaints, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered regional governors to speed up the compensation process.

The Kremlin has called the wildfires a natural disaster of the kind that appear every 30 or 40 years. Critics, meanwhile, accuse local authorities of mismanaging the response.

Desperate to control the blazes, Russia says its deployed nearly a quarter of a million people to fight the fires. But around Voronezh, many of the firefighters that Chance saw were just volunteers with buckets.