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Russian Fires Force Moscow Flight Diversions

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Sparks and fire - RussiaPlumes of smoke from drought-related wildfires forced flight restrictions at Moscow airports on Friday. As dense smoke pushed Moscow air pollution to five times normal levels, 140 flights were grounded or diverted because of low visibility.

Visibility at airports in the capital was reported to be as little 1,148 feet this morning, forcing aviation officials to divert planes to Sheremetyevo International Airport, the airport farthest from the forest fires.

The fires were caused by a stifling heat wave that hit the capital early last month. The extreme heat lit forest fires along most of European Russia, blanketing the city with smoke. Daily temperatures in Moscow have been reported to be more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Flames stock imageExperts say the heat, which has been setting records for the region, may be to blame for the 14,340 deaths recorded in Moscow in July. The death rate was about 50 percent more than in the previous year.

So far, fires have killed 50 people, but the health issues related to the smog may be more far reaching. Health officials are warning Moscow residents that daily exposure to the smoke is equivalent to smoking several packs of cigarettes.

However, Muscovites looking to flee their smoke-filled capital are faced with dwindling options. Flights out of the city have skyrocketed with one-way airfare to Berlin and London costing around $1,500 per seat.

In order to meet demand, Russia’s national rail operator has added an additional train out of St. Petersburg on Friday, though locals will have to travel far to escape the plume.

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According to satellite images released by NASA, the smoke plume from the fire currently spans around 1,860 miles from east to west, roughly the distance from San Francisco to Chicago.
Moscow Fires, NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
And there is no escape from the heat either. According to Russia’s Hydrometeorological Center, the capital will continue to experience temperatures as high as 108 degrees into the weekend.

Meanwhile, the heat wave has also caused a ripple effect on grain prices around the world. Because of a heat-related drought that has devastated crops, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered that all grain exports be banned from August 15 until the end of the year.

The pullout of Russian wheat from world markets will most likely cause higher prices for bread, cereal and cattle feed.

By Adriana Padilla at PeterGreenberg.com.

Related Links: Wall Street Journal, Voice of America

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