Hundreds of children and elderly hospital patients have been evacuated from deadly out-of-control forest fires sweeping Russia.
The fires, which come in the middle of a freak 42C heat wave, had killed 40 people by today and left more than 2,200 people homeless.
Whole villages have been engulfed by the flames in central and western parts of the country and the capital, Moscow.
The president, Dmitry Medvedev, called a state of emergency in seven regions as firefighters last night struggled to contain about 600 blazes covering about 309,000 acres (125,000 hectares). Strong winds hampered the efforts.
A large number of children and elderly people were among those affected, said Medvedev. "Many families have been left with nothing. The fire destroyed everything. It is an enormous tragedy." He has promised to compensate the victims and said homes will be rebuilt by the winter.
Thousands of people have lost their homes in 14 regions of Russia, with Nizhny Novgorod, Voronezh and Ryazan the worst affected. In these areas, more than 1,000 houses have been destroyed and more than 2,000 people left homeless, according to the Ministry of the Russian Federation for Affairs of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief.
Russian state media broadcast footage of burning cottages and groups of people passing buckets of water from hand to hand. Many villages in the Nizhny Novgorod, Voronezh and Ryazan areas were reduced to drifts of ash. One man showed the melted engine of his car.
Last night, emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu said the efforts of the tens of thousands of troops and volunteers had saved more than 300 towns and villages from total destruction. "But in some places, it is getting out of control," Mr Shoigu was quoted as telling President Dmitry Medvedev at a meeting near the southern city of Sochi.
Mr Shoigu told a TV news conference that ‘a tense situation’ continued in the fight against fires near one of Russia's largest nuclear research facilities, in Sarov, 250 miles east of Moscow. And the chief of the national nuclear agency, Sergei Kiriyenko, said some 3,000 workers and volunteers were fighting the fire near the centre.
This week’s weather will not help the battle to keep the blazes under control, as temperatures were forecast to reach 38C Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) by the weekend.
The Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced £4,200 in compensation to those made homeless by the disaster.