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Forest Fires Sweep Russia's Far East

18 October 2004 -- Russian officials say forest fires are raging over 30,000 hectares of taiga and steppe in Russia's Far East, primarily inside a national preserve.

Local Emergency Ministry officials said today that smoke from the fires reached the Pacific port of Vladivostok, nearly blocking out the sun and prompting weather officials to warn children and the elderly to stay inside.

Almost all the burning land is located in the Khingan preserve.

According to data from the global environmental group WWF, up to 3 million hectares of forest have been destroyed over the past 15 years in Russia's Far East region, due to illegal logging and fires.