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Russian President Declares State Of Emergency In Seven Regions As Wildfire Toll Climbs


Women react while standing in front of the ruins of a burned house on the outskirts of the city of Voronezh.
At least 40 people have died in wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes in Russia and burned through vast swaths of tinder-dry land, but firefighters say they are making progress and the blazes are dying down.

The crisis response center of Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry says some 500 new fires blazed across Russia in the past 24 hours amid the worst heat wave since the country began keeping records 130 years ago.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today declared a state of emergency over the wildfires in seven Russian regions, in a decree that also restricted public access to the affected areas.

"It is hard to breathe and very hot in the city and people want to get out of the city, but we need to be very careful and remember that any match that we drop can cause irreparable harm," Medvedev said in a televised address.

The emergency was declared in the regions of Marii-El, Mordovia, Vladimir, Voronezh, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, and Ryazan.

The decree also said the authorities can call on the armed forces to put out and prevent fires.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has called for an emergency meeting today with the governors of regions devastated by the fires.

The Russian news agency Interfax reported that rain is now falling in the area around Tula, some 180 kilometers south of Moscow.

compiled from agency reports