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Moscow chokes as wildfire death toll hits 40

The death toll from wildfires raging across central and western Russia has risen to 40 as millions of Muscovites coughed through a haze of smoke from burning peat bogs and firefighters scrambled to put out hundreds of new blazes.

The fires come after weeks of searing heat and practically no rain. Although temperatures in the Moscow area dipped modestly over the weekend, experts predict they'll climb back to around 38C this week.

Still, firefighters yesterday reported making some headway against the blazes that have destroyed hundreds of homes, burned through vast sections of tinder-dry land and forced thousands to evacuate.

Vladimir Stepanov, head of Russia's Emergencies Ministry's crisis centre, said about 500 new wildfires were sparked nationwide in the past 24 hours but most of them were immediately doused.

"Most importantly, the mission we are tasked with -- to avert the spread of fires to population centres, and to avoid more death -- is being accomplished," he said.

Muscovites awoke Monday to a sharp burning smell from the smouldering peat bogs south and east of the capital. The haze has increased the city's already-high pollution readings.

Wildfires were still burning yesterday across some 300,000 acres, mostly in central and western Russia, which is slightly less than the area that was engulfed in flames over the weekend, Stepanov said.

About 1,500 homes have been wiped out by fires.