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Russian wildfires reduced by half, says ministry

Reuters

Russian authorities say that the total area in flames thanks to wildfires has been halved in the last 24 hours. The cost of the disaster is put at 11.5 billion euros, one per cent of GDP, as Russians criticise the government for its slow response.

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Moscow was granted its first respite on Wednesday after the thick smog that swept across the city, choking its residents and seeing hospitals struggling to breaking point.

Authorities now say that fires now rage over 92,700 hectares, almost half of Tuesday's 174,000 hectares, Russian news agencies report.

Officials are trying to calm fears of danger from areas affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, as the flames arrive there. The pollution remains deep in the soil and there is no reason for panic, officials and experts said Wednesday.

The state-run Forestry Management Office for the Bryansk region - the area bordering Ukraine and Belarus whose soils were heavily contaminated by the 1986 disaster - said "the situation is complicated but stable and under control".

Now attention has turned to the official response and the public relations tactics of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Many Russians are laying the blame for the disaster on the government but the authorities have rejected criticism.

But they have acknowledged for the first time that, due to the heatwave, the Moscow’s mortality rate has doubled. There have been reports of morgues overflowing with bodies.

Putin on Tuesday took to the air in a water bombing jet to douse fires in one of the worst hit regions

But the usually staunchly pro-Kremlin daily Moskovsky Komsomolets struck a mocking tone and suggested that the authorities concentrate more on putting out the fires than on cultivating a media persona.

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