Wildfires rage in Russia’s Siberia, cause airport to close

Heavy smoke from raging wildfires has covered the Russian city of Yakutsk and 50 other Siberian towns and settlements, temporarily halting operations at the city’s airport

MOSCOW — Heavy smoke from raging wildfires covered the Russian city of Yakutsk and 50 other Siberian towns and settlements Sunday, temporarily halting operations at the city’s airport.

Russia has been plagued by widespread forest fires, blamed on unusually high temperatures and the neglect of fire safety rules, with the Sakha-Yakutia region in northeastern Siberia being the worst affected.

Local emergency officials said 187 fires raged in the region on Sunday, and the total area engulfed by blazes has grown by 100,000 hectares (about 247,000 acres) in the past 24 hours.

“The situation with wildfires in our republic is very difficult. I repeat that we are experiencing the driest summer in the past 150 years in Yakutia, and the month of June was the hottest on record. This, together with the dry thunderstorms that occur nearly daily in our republic, brought about significant wildfires,” Aysen Nikolayev, Yakutia’s governor, told reporters.

Smoke from the fires covered 51 towns, settlements and cities in the region, including the capital Yakutsk, forcing authorities to suspend all flights in and out of the city.

Russia’s Emergency Ministry said Sunday it had deployed two amphibious aircraft to Yakutia to help tackle the fires. More than 2,200 people are involved in the firefighting effort.

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