A record heatwave that sparked forest fires has worsened the air pollution in Moscow, prompting many in the Russian capital to wear damp surgical masks on Tuesday.

“The pollution continues to increase,” expert Alexei Popikov said.

The month of July has been the hottest on record in 130 years, with temperatures in the range of 39 degrees Celsius. That is a first since weather observation started in Moscow, the meteorological service was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

The heat has led to devastating fires across the country. An estimated 20,000 blazes have burned down some 400,000 hectares of forest in the last few weeks — the equivalent of more than half—a— million football fields.

Dozens of homes have also gone up in flames, but their inhabitants have so far been able to escape the fires unharmed, the broadcaster Westi 24 reported.

The ensuing smog increases in the presence of toxic carbon monoxide and other contaminants in the air have left environmental officials concerned, especially in Moscow with its more than 10 million people.

Smog has coated the entire city, irritating eyes, noses and throats. Authorities have advised residents to spend as little time as possible outdoors and to keep windows shut.

Russia is now hoping for hefty rain, but experts believe that will do little to immediately alleviate the situation, as embers have eaten their way deep into the soil.

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