Smoke of wildfires darkens Moscow

MOSCOW — Smoke from wildfires cloaked the Russian capital on Friday, turning the city's spires into blurs and grounding flights while pedestrians trudged the streets with faces hidden by surgical masks and water-soaked bandannas.

The smoke crept into 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 — daily highs of up to 100 compared with the summer average of 75 — and practically no rain.

Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trenev said Friday that there's no water shortage yet because officials had kept reservoir levels high. But he noted that river levels are down by more than 20 percent, due to increased demands for water to battle the fires and practically no water flowing in.

The fires drew comment from officials and activists at international climate-change talks in Bonn, Germany.

Chief U.S. delegate Jonathan Pershing said Russia's situation and the recent floods that have devastated Pakistan are "consistent with the kind of changes we would expect to see from climate change and they will only get worse unless we act quickly."

But the environmental group Greenpeace said the negotiators weren't getting the message.

"Russia is burning and Pakistan is drowning — yet they seem happy to continue as if they have all the time in the world," the group's climate policy director, Wendel Trio, said in a statement from Bonn.

Dozens of flights were grounded and others were diverted away from the capital's airports as visibility deteriorated to as little as 200 yards during the day. By Friday evening, the three airports reportedly were resuming normal service.

Visibility in the capital was down to a few dozen yards due to the smoke, which is forecast to hang around for days because of the lack of wind.