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Russian wildfires kill 25; Putin calls for officials' resignations

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Two firefighters are among the dead
  • NEW: 1,257 houses have burned, while some 2,000 people are left without a home
  • Putin calls on local officials to resign because of their fire response
  • The fires are reportedly the worst ever to hit western Russia

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- Wildfires in Russia, among the worst ever there, have killed 25 people, destroyed more than 1,000 homes, and prompted the prime minister to call on local officials to resign, response officials and Russian news agencies reported Friday.

The fires have been raging in five regions as Russia endures dry weather and one of the hottest months on record. Thursday saw Moscow reach 102 Fahrenheit (39 Celsius), the highest temperature since records began in 1879.

The fires are the worst ever to hit the European part of Russia, the region west of the Ural Mountains, the RIA-Novosti news agency said.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said there have been 21,690 fires so far this summer, 10 percent more than last year, the news agency reported.

President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the Defense Ministry on Friday to use the military to help tackle the fires, the president's spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, told the Interfax news agency.

Video: Record Russia heat wave brings wildfires
  • Russia
  • Dmitry Medvedev
  • Wildfires

The government has already dispatched additional firefighting units, along with 16 aircraft and helicopters, to fight the fires, RIA-Novosti said.

Putin and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu flew Friday to one of the affected regions, Nizhny Novgorod, where Putin called on local officials to step down.

"I recommend the resignation of the heads of regions (devastated by fire) who have, to a significant degree, lost the trust of citizens," Putin said, according to RIA-Novosti.

Many residents who lost their homes in Nizhny Novgorod had complained to Putin that local authorities' actions were "chaotic and uncoordinated," RIA-Novosti reported.

The fires have so far killed 25 people, including two firefighters, according to an official at the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry. Across the 14 fire-striken regions of central Russia, 1,257 homes have burned, and some 2,000 people have been left without housing. Sixty homes were burned in the region of Moscow.

"I don't know what to do," one Voronezh woman told state TV. "Haven't got any bed linen, cups, spoons, forks left. We're left with nothing. Everything was burned down. We couldn't salvage anything."

Putin said the families of those who died will receive 1 million rubles ($33,000) each in compensation, and the government will pay around 3 million rubles ($100,000) for the reconstruction of each destroyed house, RIA-Novosti said.

Putin also said the government will compensate people for the loss of property, the news agency said.

Temperatures across much of western and central Russia have topped 95 Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) during the past five weeks, RIA-Novosti said.

Thursday's temperature in Moscow broke the previous record high of 99.5 Fahrenheit (37.5 Celsius), set just three days earlier. The month of July is expected to break the record for the hottest month ever recorded in Moscow.

High temperatures in Moscow dropped to between 82 and 86 Fahrenheit (28 to 30 Celsius) Friday because of a breeze, but weekend temperatures were forecast to rise again.

The threat of more fires breaking out will remain high in the Central and Volga Federal Districts next week, given the abnormal heart wave and the lack of rain, the Hydrometeorological Center of Russia has reported on its web site.

The hot, dry weather is believed to have dried out large parts of land, making it easier for flames to spread. Central Russia also has large areas of peat bogs that often catch on fire in dry and hot weather.

CNN's Maxim Tkachenko contributed to this report.