As of Tuesday, the government said 529 major blazes were raging across central Russia, including what the official meteorological service described as a "fiery ring" of 90 suburban peat bog fires encircling Moscow, which has left the capital city choking in a thick – and hazardous – haze of smoke.
Uncontrollable grass, brush, and forest fires have swept through Russia's heartland, killing at least 40 people, leaving thousands homeless, and hitting the bone-dry grassy steppes of the Volga region especially hard. For more than a month, European Russia has been experiencing daily temperatures that are 10 to 15 degrees C above the historic average of about 23 degrees C (73.4 degrees F.). for this time of year. Most of central Russia has received far less than a third of normal rainfall during the same period.
The worst drought in half a century has already ruined at least 20 percent of Russia's grain crop, which means the crisis is likely to keep on delivering misery to Russians – in the form of soaring food prices – through the coming winter.
According to the meteorological service, temperatures will continue to spike up to 40 degrees C (104 degrees F.) over the coming week, though there could be some respite in the form of desperately needed thunder showers. Promises of precipitation over recent weeks have yielded only a few light smatterings of actual rain.
Amid the crisis, Prime Minister Putin has been front-and-center on evening TV news broadcasts, whipping officialdom into shape and reassuring the population. Late last week he was seen rushing to the hard-hit region of Nizhni Novgorod, where he pledged to rebuild every destroyed home "before year's end," threatened to fire lax local authorities, and ordered all officials to cancel weekend leisure plans for the duration of the emergency.