The all-time record heat wave that has gripped Russia since June has turned into a major natural calamity as wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes in the European regions and killed more than 20 people.

Spurred by strong winds, forest fires wiped out several villages in provinces of Nizhny Novgorod, Ryazan and Voronesh hundreds of kilometres away from Moscow. Over 900 houses have been razed to the ground and at least 23 people, including several fire fighters, died in the blazes, officials said. Many hospitals and summer camps have been evacuated overnight as fires continued to tear through parched Central Russia.

July proved the hottest and driest month in Russia ever. The temperature in Moscow on July 29 soared above 38 degrees Celsius — the highest for the Russian capital since records began 130 years ago. The severe heat has been aggravated by heavy smog from burning peat bogs around Moscow.

President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday ordered the Army to help fight forest fires. Villagers in Russia typically have no home insurance and live off small plots of land attached to their houses.

Russia has already lost a fifth of its wheat crop in the worst drought that has engulfed central parts of European Russia and Siberia.

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