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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Governor Promises Canals to Prevent Peat Fires

As heavy haze choked Moscow for a third day, Moscow region Governor Boris Gromov on Thursday promised to build irrigation canals to prevent peat bogs from drying up and catching fire.

The number of peat bog and forest fires in the Moscow region rose from 119 to 122 on Thursday, fueling the worst haze in the capital in 30 years, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

Thirty-two fire engines and 250 emergency workers have been mobilized to fight the raging fires covering 243 hectares, the ministry said.

Weather forecasters promised relief by Saturday when a new weather front is expected to scatter the smoke with rain, wind and cooler temperatures.

Gromov's spokesman said the governor ordered that canals be built throughout the region, starting with the Shatura district to the southeast of Moscow, which has the fiercest peat bog fires. The first irrigation systems should be operating by next summer, he said.

Muscovites last saw such a thick haze in the summer of 1972, when similar hot, dry weather also led to fires at peat bogs in the surrounding region.

In Moscow, the haze was so thick Thursday morning that the city's tallest landmarks such as the Christ the Savior Cathedral and St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square could barely be seen from several hundred meters away. Drivers were forced to turn on their headlights to navigate streets.

While many residents were suffering watery eyes, headaches and increased tiredness, health officials said there had been no reports of serious side effects. They reiterated that those suffering from respiratory problems, mainly asthma, stay indoors or leave the city altogether.

Officials insisted, though, that the situation was under control.

"There is no catastrophe in the city -- just a typical summer situation," Igor Elkis, the chief doctor of the city's ambulance service, was quoted by Interfax as saying.