MOSCOW — A miasma of smoke from wildfires cloaked the sweltering Russian capital on Friday, turning the city's spires into ominous blurs and grounding flights while glum pedestrians trudged the streets with faces hidden by surgical masks and water-soaked bandanas.
The smoke crept into many buildings, hovering about the ceiling in entryways. The State Historical Museum on Red Square was forced to close because it couldn't stop its smoke detectors from going off.
Airborne pollutants such as carbon monoxide were four times higher than average readings — the worst seen to date in Moscow, city health officials reported. The concentration appeared likely to intensify; the state news agency ITAR-Tass reported smoke was thickening in the city's southeast late Friday.
The fires, which are raging across much of western Russia, come after weeks of extraordinary heat — highs of up to 100 compared with the summer average of 75 — and practically no rain. More than 500 blazes were burning nationwide Friday.
"All high-temperature records have been beaten, never has this country seen anything like this," Moscow emergency official Yuri Besedin said Friday, adding that 31 forest fires and 15 peat-bog fires were burning in the Moscow region alone.
At least 52 people have died and 2,000 homes have been destroyed. Officials have admitted that the 10,000 firefighters battling the blazes aren't enough, an assessment echoed by villagers, who said fires swept through their hamlets in minutes.