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Smog clouds gather over Omsk, Tomsk and Novosibirsk

By The Siberian Times reporter
26 July 2012

Plane schedules were disrupted, residents are warned to stay indoors and some sailors in the Ob Sea even had to use GPS devices to get back to land because of thick smoke fumes from raging forest fires. 

Wildfires over Siberia. Pictures: Alexander Lesnyanskiy

In Novosibirsk, an ammunition train caught fire and exploded, in turn causing a wildfire with 52 residents from Tikhomirovo village requiring evacuation. 

The worst airport disruption was in Tomsk on Wednesday but the smoke spread also engulfed Omsk and Novosibirsk.

On Thursday the local emergency ministry in Omsk advised locals to stay indoors, keep windows shut, and when venturing out to breathe through a gauze mask. 

A lack of rain and prolonged temperatures of around 30C have led to the tinderbox conditions in Siberian forests. 

Tomsk was shrouded in smoke, with a smell of burning in the air, residents reported. 

The airport was temporarily closed on Wednesday with flights redirected to Novosibirsk and Kemerovo. 

Six arrivals were redirected due to visibility as low as 80 metres. 

More services of S7, Aeroflot and Orenburg Airlines were delayed in Moscow, and outgoing planes from Tomsk were also disrupted. 

Some 30 wildfires were burning in Tomsk region, covering 7,827 hectares, the Russian Forestry Department website reported on Thursday. The situation in the region was described as 'deteriorating'.

Despite the putrid conditions, consumer watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, said the situation was not critical in terms of health risks to residents. 

'We are monitoring the situation,' said the organisation's chief, Gennady Onishchenko. 'We do not see any reason to take special measures, but personal protection is necessary.'

While the smoke wafted into residential areas of Tomsk and Novosibirsk, officials insisted there was no risk of fires - mostly in remote areas - threatening homes. 

News agency RIA Novosti compared conditions 'to that in Moscow in the summer of 2010, when smoke from burning peat bogs covered the city and forced many people to wear protective masks outside'.

In Novosibirsk region, the fire on a 72-carriage freight train carrying 30mm armaments led to delays on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Shells started exploding on Wednesday morning, destroying one carriage. 

It was initially unclear what caused the problem, with Russian Railways disputing claims that faulty brakes were to blame.  Six military helicopters were deployed to dump water on the blaze.

While the fire on the train was extinguished, there were explosions sending fragments several hundred metres, igniting blazes in the parched vegetation.

There were fears high winds could cause it to flare and spread further. 

Also in Novosibirsk, the spreading smog caught sailors by surprise on the giant Ob Sea reservoir.  ' My friends had to use GPS to return, so low was the visibility', said one source. 

Elsewhere in Siberia,  there were 65 wildfires burning  in Krasnoyarsk region, covering 3,915 hectares.

And in Khanti-Mansiysk region,  35 wildfires were burning over an area of 1,200 hectares .

High - and some extreme - fire alerts were in place over Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, and Kemerovo regions, in the west of the Altai region, and in both Khakassiya and Tuva.

Entry to the woods and forests was prohibited in 33 subjects of the Russian Federation including  the whole territory of Primorye, Trans Baikal, Tyumen, and Altai.

Similar curbs were in place in  three districts of the Yamal Nenets region, two districts of Krasnoyarsk region, two districts of Chukotka region, six districts of Omsk region, one district of Amur Region, two districts of Magadan region, and nine districts of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). 

In the Rusisan Far East, it was reported that rains had helped to dampen the blazes. 

Despite this, more than 5,000 hectares of woodland were destroyed in 24 hours. 

Almost 2,000 woodland fires covering 427,000 hectares have been extinguished in the Far Eastern Federal District this summer. 

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