Russian city enveloped in smog from forest fires

Russian city enveloped in smog from forest fires

30 September 2011

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Russia — A state of emergency has been declared in the Eastern Siberian city of Bratsk.

Forest fires have blanketed the city in smog and pushed carbon dioxide levels several times over the normal level. People are wearing masks and complaining of respiratory problems. Schools and kindergartens have not been closed, but all pupils have been given protective masks.

Local people have criticized the authorities for letting the situation get out of control. Emergency workers say the weather conditions are to blame. It is dry, and there is no wind to remove the smoke.The operation is also complicated by the location of the fires which are over a kilometer from access roads.

The head of the Emergencies Ministry’s national crisis management center, Vladimir Stepanov, explained that an incorrect assessment led to too few emergency workers being mobilized, which exacerbated the situation.

President Medvedev said that local authorities should be penalized for negligence. “I imagine what the city must look like,” Medvedev said. “I’m surprised that neither local nor regional authorities are taking sufficient measures to stop the fires.”

Russia’s Emergency Minister Sergey Shoigu has slammed the Bratsk authorities and ordered all fires be extinguished by the end of the day. He says he will punish those in charge of the fire-fighting operation.
“You [the Bratsk authorities] have staged a performance for the entire country,” the minister said. “You have made the city of Bratsk famous all over the country for your inability to cope with simple things.”
Meanwhile, local media report that 15 people have been arrested on suspicion of arson. They are now being questioned by the police.

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