Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has declared a state of emergency in response to the forest fires that have already caused thousands to evacuate and have destroyed or damaged 77 towns or village. Russian officials reported over 500 new fires in seven oblasts, or administrative districts, over the past 24 hours alone. Because much of Western Russia has been stricken with record temperatures and weeks of drought, it is exceedingly difficult for officials to predict where the next wildfire will begin or how quickly it will spread. At least 40 people have died so far trying to escape the fires. The casualties almost included these four young Russian men, who videotaped their flight out of a smoldering wildfire in the Nizhny Novgorod oblast:
The men, who at one point remark that the road itself is on fire, quickly turn from awe-struck to panicked once they realize that they are stuck. They briefly debate fleeing on foot but agree that leaving the car would block the road and doom the people in the cars behind them. They return the car to the road and finally emerge from the worst of the blaze. One of the men comments, "it was like being in hell."
The most revealing moment of the video comes near the end when, after driving through for several minutes in near-black darkness, the car emerges from the smoke to show a blue, daytime sky. Many of the fires are burning peat bogs, producing a dark, heavy smoke that is extremely difficult to navigate. As the fires spread to Russia's many bogs, evacuations will continue to be as chaotic, frightening, and dangerous as the one in the video above.