As of Wednesday, Russian authorities were fighting 15 wildfires in the Urals region of Sverdlovsk, the emergencies ministry said. The country has been battling wildfires for more than a week, Siberia being one of the worst-hit regions. 

The region—which lies on the border of Europe and Asia—faced “extreme fire hazard” due to a heatwave, officials said, as per AFP reports. 

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The federal highway between Yekaterinburg and the Urals city of Perm was shut most of the day as flames blazed on both sides, local media reported. The Mordovia region, southeast of Moscow saw firefighters escape from what the ministry described as a ‘ring of fire’. 

Authorities declared an interregional state of emergency on Tuesday as fires reached Sarov, a center for nuclear research since the Soviet era. Nine planes provided by the emergencies ministry, the defence ministry and the Russian National Guard dropped 129 tons of water onto a large wildfire spreading to neighbouring Mordovia in the Nizhny Novgorod region on Wednesday. As many as 1,200 firefighters were deployed to put out the blaze, the emergencies ministry said. As per reports, the area burned down in Russia’s coldest region Yakutia is larger than Portugal.

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On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin had addressed the wildfires as ‘unprecedented’ and pledged millions of dollars, as per AFP. 

“For years, officials and opinion leaders have been saying that fires are normal, that the taiga is always burning, and there is no need to make an issue out of this. People are used to it,” said Alexei Yaroshenko, a forestry expert with Greenpeace Russia, as per the Washington Post. 

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“The fires raging in Siberia are bigger than fires in Greece, Turkey, Italy, the United States and Canada combined, with analysts warning that this year could surpass Russia’s worst fire year, 2012,” he added.