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15:47 GMT +3 hours21 December 2014
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Putin puts out two wildfires in central Russia (update 1)

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday took part in extinguishing forest fires in Ryazan Province on board an amphibious firefighting airplane.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday took part in extinguishing forest fires in Ryazan Province on board an amphibious firefighting airplane.

The Russian head of government was the co-pilot for half an hour aboard a Be-200 plane scooping up water from the nearby Oka River and dumping it on raging forest fires some 200 kilometers southeast of Moscow.

He dumped approximately 12 tons of water on each of two fires, extinguishing both completely.

Putin initially sat in the cabin in front of a thermal imaging monitor together with Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ryazan Governor Oleg Kovalev.

However, shortly after takeoff Putin suddenly entered the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot's seat.

He received a quick briefing from Emergency Situations Ministry aviation chief Rafail Zakirov.

It took the Be-200 a mere 11 seconds to fill up its water tanks.

During the flight, Putin observed the operation of another Be-200 that was also dousing fires from a minimum height.

He also spotted a fresh steppe fire in dangerous proximity to two villages.

Governor Kovalev, still airborne, immediately issued instructions to the local authorities to take measures to extinguish it.

Putin's stunt comes as polls show waning public support for Russia's president and prime minister.

Respected Russian sociologist Leonty Byzov told Vedomosti business daily Putin and Medvedev's ratings could drop to 40% in the next six months. He said there was a growing fatigue surrounding Putin's popularity and that if the government's poor response to the wildfire crisis is taken into account, the two leaders' ratings would decrease dramatically.

Wildfires, sparked by weeks of abnormally high temperatures in central Russia, have severely damaged the Russian economy, with the estimated short-term loss of $15 billion.

RYAZAN, August 10 (RIA Novosti)