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Massive Wildfires Hit Russia's Mari El Republic, Hundreds Forced From Area

The fires started on August 19 and quickly spread to other areas.
The fires started on August 19 and quickly spread to other areas.

YOSHKAR-OLA, Russia -- A wave of wildfires has hit Russia's Republic of Mari El in the Volga region, blanketing the republic's capital, Yoshkar-Ola, in a thick layer of smoke.

The fires started on August 19 and hit the Medvedevo district, quickly spreading to force the evacuation of hundreds of people from several nearby villages and resorts on August 20 .

The head of Mari El, Aleksandr Yevstifeyev, has arrived in the area and met with firefighters and volunteers at the site.

Early on August 20, some 150 volunteers joined nearly 400 people already involved in firefighting operations, with more people and equipment, including military personnel, expected to be sent to the site in the coming hours, according to the republic's government.

Mar El is in the Volga region of Russia.
Mar El is in the Volga region of Russia.

The Emergency Ministry directorate in Mari El said that preliminary estimates put the area hit by the wildfires at around 120 hectares and in very close proximity to the villages of Sosnovy Bor, Studenka, Ustye-Kundysh, and several resort sites near Lake Shap.

Wildfires have also ravaged other parts of Russia, especially vast Siberian regions, for weeks.

The Natural Resources Ministry said last week that a total of 252 active fires were burning across the country covering more than 4.2 million hectares.

Environmental experts say a 2007 decision by the government to disband a federal aviation network tasked to spot and combat fires has hampered firefighting efforts.

Weather officials and environmentalists have linked the growing intensity of wildfires in Russian regions to climate change.