The smell of smoke returns to Moscow

The smell of smoke returns to Moscow

25 July 2011

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Russia — A whiff of the acrid smog which swathed and choked Moscow at the height of last summer’s fires, has returned, locals report.

Residents in the south east of the city say the familiar scent in the upper floors of buildings and by metro stations is back, while officials say there are no threatening fires and that everything is under control.

If indeed the smoke has returned, it has defied the odds. The pundits say that this summer’s higher rainfall means smoldering peat bogs and forests are less likely to give off the same levels of smoke they did last year.

No fire

The authorities insist there is no problem, “As of Monday morning there was not one active concentration of fires in the Moscow Region, either forest fire or peat bog fire,” a representative of the Moscow Emergencies Ministry told Interfax, NewsMSK reported.

The lingering smell of burning is therefore in no way connected, “Right now neither Moscow nor Moscow Region are under threat from fire and the situation is under control,” he added.

The federal ministry said in a statement that there were 13 fires in the Central Federal District, but that they were all extinguished, “The area covered by fires in a single day was 9.26 hectares, of which 6.05 were forestry and 3.21 were peat. All fires were put out on the day they started,” the statement said.

Thank the rain

Environmentalists agree that the risks of smoke engulfing the capital are lower than last year, “The risk of high levels of smoke has fallen because of heavy rain,” said Alexei Yaroshenko, head of the Russian forestry program at Greenpeace.

He added that those fires that have cropped up are small and have for the main part been extinguished.

“One can never say that there is no risk of bad smoke in Moscow. There is still time, there will be until the end of the summer, and in particular regions the peat bogs continue to burn,” he said.

Ominous haze

Nonetheless an ominous haze cast itself over parts of the city on Monday morning. There were reports of the scent of burning on the upper floors of houses on Lublinskaya Ulitsa and Volgogradsky Prospekt, as well as on the open-air stretch of metro line through Tekstilshchiki.

The prevailing wind was blowing from the south east and there have been fires reported in Vladimir region, which Yaroshenko said were probably the cause. Nonetheless, the translucent haze that gathered over Moscow in the early hours of Monday could have been humidity as much as smoke, the weather office reported.

The damage last year to the environment, buildings and health was considerable. Alexander Chuchalin, Russia’s chief lung doctor, warned in July, before the smoke reached its worse, that the smog was so bad it was equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes in three or four hours.

The toxic cocktail of peat smoke, wood smoke and fumes claimed many lives and Moscow’s death rate leapt by 50 per cent that summer, by conservative estimates.

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