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Russia steps up fire battle near nuclear site.

MOSCOW, Aug. 13 -- Russia on Thursday stepped up efforts to halt wildfires near its main nuclear research site, as President Dmitry Medvedev said one quarter of its crops have been lost in a record heatwave.

The fires have also raised alarm that burning forests could raise up radioactive particles in land still contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster but the authorities warned against any panic.

Medvedev also reported success in containing the fires that have killed over 50 people and destroyed entire villages, saying he has given orders to lift the state of emergency in three of seven regions.

But he warned that many farms were on the verge of bankruptcy after one quarter of the country's crops have been lost due to the heat.

"We have a very complicated situation because as a whole in the country around a quarter of the grain crops have been burned," Russian news agencies quoted the Kremlin chief as saying in the southern town of Taganrog.

"Unfortunately many farms are on the verge of bankruptcy on account of the death of the harvest."

Medvedev also said he had lifted the state of emergency in Vladimir, Voronezh and Marii El regions, while the siatuation remained complicated in another four -- Mordovia, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and Ryazan regions.

Russia is battling what experts say is the worst heatwave in its millenium-long history which has affected nearly all areas of life and may cost it one percent of gross domestic product, or 15 billion dollars.

Fires also blazed in neighbouring Ukraine, with the emergency services working to put out a two-hectare (five-acre) peat bog fire 60 kilometres (35 miles) from Chernobyl.

Russia sent a special firefighting train and 70 more people to join over 3,400 firefighters battling to douse wildfires close to its top nuclear research centre in Sarov, a town in the Nizhny Novgorod region still closed to foreigners as in Soviet times.

While no blazes had been registered on the territory of the nuclear research centre itself, a nearby nature reserve has been on fire for around a week.

The nature reserve is located in nearby region of Mordovia and tree leaves and pine needles on the surface are now burning and smouldering, said Mikhail Turkov, a spokesman for the emergencies ministry's Volga regional branch.

"Two planes and two helicopters are currently circling over Sarov," Turkov told AFP. "Reconnaissance is being constantly conducted from the air."

A firefighting train has been involved in putting out the fires, while a second train was on its way to the scene.

Two soldiers were killed by blazing trees as they strove to put out a fire close to the centre on Monday.

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Publication:The Statesman (Peshawar, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Aug 13, 2010
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