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Russia Steps Up Fire Battle As Crops Wither

Firefighters work to extinguish fire at a house in Berestyanki in the Ryazan region
Russia is trying to halt wildfires near its main nuclear research site, as President Dmitry Medvedev said one-quarter of crops had been lost in a record heat wave.

Medvedev reported success in containing the fires that have killed over 50 people and destroyed entire villages, saying he has given orders to lift the state of emergency in three of seven regions.

Moscow, in the heart of one of the worst-hit regions, received its first significant rain for weeks today, bringing some relief to the capital.

Medvedev said he had lifted the state of emergency in Vladimir, Voronezh, and Marii-El regions, while the situation remained complicated in another four -- Mordovia, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, and Ryazan regions.

But he warned that many farms were on the verge of bankruptcy after one-quarter of the country's crops have been lost due to the heat.

Russia sent a special firefighting train and 70 more people to join over 3,400 firefighters battling to put down wildfires close to its top nuclear research center in Sarov, a town in the Nizhny Novgorod region still closed to foreigners as in Soviet times.

While no blazes had been registered on the territory of the nuclear research center itself, a nearby nature reserve has been on fire for around a week.

Fires also blazed in neighboring Ukraine, with the emergency services working to put out a two-hectare peat bog fire 60 kilometers from Chernobyl.

Meanwhile, Finland said its radioactivity levels were normal in areas affected by smoke from fire-ravaged Russia.

compiled from agency reports