Boys cool off at a fountain in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, east of Moscow, on Thursday. Alexander Zemlianichenko / Associated Press

By Dmitry Solovyov, Gleb Bryanski and Alexander Reshetnikov; Editing by Matthew Jones

(Reuters) - Soaring temperatures across large swathes of Russia have destroyed nearly 10 million hectares of crops and prompted a state of emergency to be declared in 17 regions.

On Friday the state-run Moscow region weather bureau said it expected the heatwave, which has gripped the country since late June and is estimated to have already cost the agricultural sector about $1 billion, to continue into next week.

Saturday could see temperatures in Moscow hit 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit), which would break the previous record of 36.6C. set in 1936.

"It looks like tomorrow could just break the record," the weather bureau's Moscow head Yelena Timakina said.

The high temperatures and tinder dry land have exacerbated the problem of forest fires. Billowing smoke and orange flames encircle Moscow as peat and forest fires resist attempts to extinguish them.

A state of emergency due to what the grain lobby says is the country's worst drought in 130 years, has now been imposed in 17 Russian regions, up from 16 earlier this week.

The area affected sprawls from the southern Urals and central European Russia to the Volga, the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement on Friday. A state of emergency might be declared in a further two regions.

As of Thursday crops on a combined area of 9.6 million hectares have been destroyed. This comprises some 12 percent of all lands sown to crops in Russia, or a territory roughly the size of Hungary. …

The Emergency Ministry said on Friday the amount of peat burned in the Moscow region so far this year was four times higher than last year, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

With his back turned on a fire ripping through a forest about 130 km (81 miles) southeast of Moscow, the deputy head of the ministry's Moscow region said rapidly drying soil was causing flames to spread fast.

"If there is an open fire somewhere, then wind could spread the sparks to the distance of 20-30 metres and we have to catch the fire," Alexei Gudiyev told Reuters.

Russia swelters in heatwave, many crops destroyed

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