MOSCOW — A deep layer of smog from wildfires around Moscow hung over the Russian capital Saturday, prompting many city residents to wear masks and causing dozens of flight delays and diversions at the city's airports.
The thick haze affected Moscow for a second straight day as southeastern winds blew smoke from the areas worst affected by peat bog and forest fires. Weather experts said the winds are unlikely to change over the next few days.
The concentration of airborne pollutants such as carbon monoxide has further intensified and is at more than six times normal levels, according to city health officials – the worst seen to date in Moscow. The smog has seeped into buildings and the city's subway system.
"I can't bear it any more," said Anna Kozyreva, 25. "My parents have left the city. All I want to is breathe normally, but my job doesn't allow me to leave."
"The smoke is everywhere – at home, in shopping malls, on the subway," added Roman Morozov, a 29-year old architect.
Visibility was down to a few hundred meters, and about a dozen flights bound for Moscow's Domodedovo and Vnukovo airports were diverted to other airports. Some 40 of other flights bound for Domodevo on Saturday were delayed pending an improvement in visibility, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Nearly 600 separate blazes were burning nationwide Saturday, mainly across western Russia, according to the Emergencies Ministry, which said that the area affected had increased over the past 24 hours. Hundreds of forest and peat bog fires have ignited amid the country's most intense heat wave in 130 years of record-keeping.
Russian health officials have urged those who have to go outdoors to wear face masks and told people staying inside to hang wet towels to attract dust and cool the airflow. The Russian Health Ministry said hundreds have needed medical attention due to the smog.
At least 52 people have died and 2,000 homes have been destroyed in the blazes. Russian officials have acknowledged that the 10,000 firefighters battling the blazes aren't enough – an assessment echoed by many residents, who said the fires swept through their hamlets in minutes.
Moscow has had temperatures approaching 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit), and that is forecast to stay unchanged over the next week in contrast to the city's average summer temperature of around 23 C (75 F).