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Forest Fires Threaten Russian City


Russian Emergency Situations Ministry personnel extinguish fires near Bratsk on September 30.

Russian Emergency Situations Ministry personnel extinguish fires near Bratsk on September 30.

BRATSK, Russia -- A state of emergency has been declared in the East Siberian city of Bratsk due to forest fires in the region, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu told President Dmitry Medvedev in a televised meeting that the fires are approaching Bratsk and the situation is very serious. Medvedev expressed dissatisfaction with the local authorities' failure to contain the situation.

Earlier this week, Shoigu met with Dmitry Mezentsev, the governor of Irkutsk Oblast, where Bratsk is located, and agreed to allocate additional equipment and rescue personnel to extinguish the fires.

Olga Bannikova, a Bratsk resident for 40 years, told RFE/RL that it's the first time a forest fire has come so close. Bannikova said residents are buying surgical masks, soaking them in water, and wearing them to filter out the smoke. She said the smoke is so thick that visibility is down to five meters.

"Since Monday [September 26] I have been having stomach aches, my heart has been beating faster than usual, and my mouth is always dry, with a bitter taste," Bannikova said.

Some schools in Bratsk were forced to close after students fainted in class.

Meanwhile, the deputy chief of the General Directorate of the Ministry for Emergency Situations in Irkutsk Oblast, Yevgeny Gogolev, told RFE/RL that most fires had been extinguished as of 6 p.m. local time on September 30 and said the situation was under control. He also said that special measures were taken to protect residents who suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Bratsk is one of the largest cities in Eastern Siberia, with a population of some 250,000.

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