YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia is sending a team of heavily equipped firefighters to Russia to help the country cope with its worst wildfires in nearly four decades that have killed at least 48 people, the Armenian government said on Wednesday.
The fires raging over an area of about 2,000 square kilometers were triggered last month by Russia’s worst heat wave on record. They have left thousands of people homeless and prompted Russian authorities to declare a state of emergency in seven regions. Thick clouds of acrid, choking smoke from the forest and peat bog fires blanketed Moscow on Wednesday
News reports citing Russian officials said 170,000 people, including troops, are now battling at least 520 fires over large swathes of countryside.
Armenia’s Emergencies Ministry said it has decided to join in the rescue effort with a team of 28 firefighters and four fire fighting vehicles. A ministry statement said they will fly to the central Russian city of Nizhniy Novgorod on board two Armenian military transport aircrafts on Thursday. The team will be led by Colonel Pavel Gyozalian, a senior official at the ministry’s Rescue Service.
Earlier in the day, Gyozalian and another Emergencies Ministry official, Nikolay Grigorian, told journalists that Yerevan has no plans to send any rescuers to Russia. Grigorian argued that Russian authorities only need fire-fighting aircrafts and helicopters, the kind of equipment which the Armenian Rescue Service does not have.
The service will send personnel to Russia despite reporting a sharp increase in wildfires within Armenia this summer, which has also been hot and dry.
Gyozalian said the fires have mostly engulfed countryside fields and have killed one person in the eastern Gegharkunik region. He warned that they could spread further with a rise in air temperatures expected in the coming days.
“Some cases are the result of a human factor and they are quite numerous,” Gyozalian told the news conference. “But there is another fact which I would like to emphasize. We have had a number of cases of fires spreading into Armenia from Azerbaijan. There have been such cases in two regions.”
(Photo Caption) Moscow- Traffic lights show red, with an entrance sign reading Moscow below, a statement followed a phone call between President Serzh Sarkisian and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. Sarkisian’s office said Medvedev accepted an assistance offer made by the Armenian leader.