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Cary man endures Russian fire, smoke

Posted August 14, 2010

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— A Cary man visited Russia last weekend as hundreds of wildfires burned, killing 50 people and spreading smoke and fog across the country

Curt Woodall, a retired American Airlines employee, traveled for a wedding in Moscow. There, smoke and fog were so thick that residents wore masks and the U.S. state department has recommended that Americans postpone travel to the country.

"The heat and the smoke are everything the media is reporting, if not more," Woodall wrote in an email to WRAL News. "It is like a brown fog, with half- to quarter-miles visibility, remaining about 100 (degrees) all day and all night."

As his plane landed in Moscow, the pilot warned that smoke would be as high as 1,500 feet and that passengers would smell it before landing.

Woodall said he did soon smell "a distinct odor of burning wood, which was a novelty at first but wears off after a while."

The smoke permeated subways and apartments throughout the Russian capital. Woodall said his eyes stung a little bit, and he wore a surgical face mask throughout the city.

Air conditioning – or rather a lack of it – made the smoke that much worse, he said. At the airport, passengers sweated like mad waiting for flights delayed by the smoke, and airport workers handed out free water.

Keeping cool and smoke-free in a three-bedroom apartment with only one fan was virtually impossible.

"Do you shut the windows, keeping the smoke out (and) creating an uncomfortable sweat box at a stagnant 100 (degrees), or do you open the open the windows for some ventilation, letting the smoke in?" Woodall said.

"Nights were especially tough, continuing to sweat, trying to cool off with cold, water-soaked towels," he added. "Thin, wet towels hung over open windows didn't help much. Cooking in the kitchen was out of the question."

Woodall eventually concluded that air-conditioned cars were the best place to be.

"Willis Haviland Carrier was a great American. He invented the air conditioner," he said. "The Russians claim to have invented everything, but they missed out on anything that cools, except ice cream."

Nevertheless, Woodall said, he had a wonderful experience at the wedding and marveled at Russian's ability to celebrate amid the hardships.

"I was with a great bunch of people. The smoke, heat and minimal cooling inside some places were completely ignored all day long," he said. "Russians are famous for persevering, and they do."


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