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Putin ousts forestry chief over wildfires

Associated Press / August 21, 2010

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MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin yesterday dismissed Russia’s forestry agency chief, who had come under steady criticism over the failure to prevent the summer’s devastating wildfires.

Putin dismissed Rosleskhoz head Alexei Savinov and replaced him with his deputy, Viktor Maslyakov. The prime minister has previously criticized the agency for failing to efficiently use the government funds allocated for fire prevention.

A heat wave unprecedented in 130 years of record-keeping has triggered thousands of deadly wildfires in Russia.

Heavy rain drenched the Russian capital yesterday, helping firefighters battle the remaining wildfires around the city.

A cold front that hit western Russia has ended the two-month heat wave and cleared skies over Moscow from smog. Temperatures in the city fell from nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit to 48 degrees Fahrenheit in two days.

The Emergency Situations Ministry reported new success yesterday in the battle against the country’s fires. They now cover some 22,000 acres — less than a 20th of the territory they covered earlier this month.

President Dmitry Medvedev lifted the state of emergency in the Moscow region yesterday and two other provinces that had been affected by the fires. The Ryazan region is still under a state of emergency, but that is expected to be lifted over the weekend, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

Drought has cost Russia a third of its wheat crop, prompting the government to ban wheat exports through the year’s end.

Putin signed an order yesterday to subsidize low-interest loans to farmers to help them recover losses. He also pledged to earmark funds to those who lost housing in the fires.

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