Forest fires continue to rage in Siberia, decimating up to 15,000 hectares of forest and forcing the closure of the Tomsk regional airport, Russia's Emergencies Ministry said on Friday.
Most of the fires were fueled by intense heat and strong winds, increasing the area by 2,000 hectares overnight.
The worst of the blazes were concentrated in Russia's Siberian regions of Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Tuva, Khakassia and Irkutsk, according to the ministry.
Firefighters continue battling to control around 30 wildfireson Friday that have swept through thousands of hectares of land in the region .
“Forest services in the Federal Reserve of Siberian Federal District have eliminated 45 forest fires covering an area of 522 hectares," the Department of Forestry said in a statement.
Another 29 forest fires that previously engulfed more than 5,000 hectares have been localized, the statement said.
The Emergencies Ministry said 412 pieces of wildland firefighting equipment and 24 firefighting aircraft were deployed to suppress the fires. Up to 3,000 firefighters are currently battling fires in the area.
As Russia faces high temperatures with raging wildfires and possible droughts, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev appealed to regional governors on Friday to pay special attention to the operation of early warning systems.
"I appeal to all fellow governors, especially to the heads of federal executive bodies: please keep the situation under control; do not relax,” Medvedev told a meeting called to discuss the heat wave. He warned that the summer is still very much around and it is essential to protect all populated areas.
Tomsk Wrapped in Thick Cloud
The situation remains severe in the Tomsk region, where firefighters eliminated two forest fires in the past two days and localized another 12 that raced through large swaths of surrounding area.
There was no let up on Thursday, however, as three new fire outbreaks engulfed an estimated 160 hectares, bringing the total number of reported forest fires to 34 on Friday.
Most of the fires, which have now claimed 8,500 hectares in the area, are concentrated in the region’s rugged terrain.
Meanwhile, Tomsk, the regional capital, remained enveloped in dense smoke on Friday.
Hundreds of passengers were stranded at Tomsk airport on Friday morning after dozens of early morning flights were either canceled or delayed due to the thick cloud.
A number of airlines, including UTair, Transaero, S7 and Aeroflot delayed flights for more than five hours because of the smog.
“There was no visibility as a result of the forest fires and we cannot allow aircraft to land. The plane belonging to S7 landed at an airport in Kemerovo, flights from other airports were simply canceled,” a spokesman for the airport told RIA Novosti.
City residents have also reported a high density of carbon monoxide in the air, twice exceeding the permitted level.
"Our current standard for carbon monoxide is five milligrams. But on Friday morning, the figure stood at 10 milligrams, that is, twice as high," an expert at the regional ministry of natural resources said.
The regional health department said Friday that the level of carbon monoxide in the air in Tomsk is not high enough to cause toxic poisoning.
A wildfire raging in the Krasnoyarsk Territory for two weeks with hot, dry and windy conditions has forced authorities to declare an emergency situation, according to regional emergencies ministry.
"In order to prevent forest fires from erupting and spreading to more populated areas in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, an emergency situation has been declared," the ministry said in a statement.
Almost 84 forest fires are raging across the territory, affecting some 6,057 hectares of land. There was no immediate threat the fires would spread to populated centers on Friday, regional emergency officials said.
Dry lightning and dry thunderstorms caused 60 of the wildfires in the region while the causes of another 19 cases have not yet been determined.
But despite the unusual weather conditions, authorities have not ruled out the possibility of arson.