Russia deploys military to help contain raging Siberian wildfires
Russia's military was deployed on Thursday, 22 July 2021, to help contain raging wildfires in the country's Sakha-Yakutia region. More than 1.88 million hectares of land have so far been scorched in the Siberian region since the beginning of summer with hundreds of wildfires sparked by record temperatures. The vast region has had a long spell of extremely hot and dry weather this summer, with temperatures reaching 39 degrees Celsius and setting records for several days. The fires have shrouded Yakutia's cities, towns and villages in thick smoke, forcing authorities to briefly suspend flights at the regional capital's airport. The Defence Ministry deployed transport aircraft and helicopters to help douse the flames.
Russia's Emergency Ministry said Sunday it had deployed two amphibious aircraft to Yakutia to help tackle the fires. More than 5 000 regular firefighters are involved but the scale is so large and the area is so enormous that 55 percent of the fires aren't being fought at all, according to Avialesookhrana, the agency that oversees the effort.
The Russian Air Force made 18 flights, dropping 36 tons of water on the blazes in the Gorny district.
Heavy smoke from raging wildfires covered the Russian city of Yakutsk and 50 other Siberian towns and settlements Sunday, temporarily halting operations at the city's airport.
Russia has been plagued by widespread forest fires, blamed on unusually high temperatures and the neglect of fire safety rules, with the Sakha-Yakutia region in northeastern Siberia being the worst affected.
Local emergency officials said 187 fires raged in the region on Sunday, and the total area engulfed by blazes has grown by 100 000 hectares in the past 24 hours. “The situation with wildfires in our republic is very difficult. I repeat that we are experiencing the driest summer in the past 150 years in Yakutia and the month of June was the hottest on record. This, together with the dry thunderstorms that occur nearly daily in our republic, brought about significant wildfires," Aysen Nikolayev, Yakutia's Governor, said.
Smoke from the fires covered 51 towns, settlements and cities in the region, including the capital Yakutsk, forcing authorities to suspend all flights in and out of the city. “We can’t see each other because of the smoke, our eyes are burning and overall the smoke is very dangerous for the health of us villagers," said Vasiliy Krivoshapkin, resident of Magaras. "We see on television planes that are dropping water on the burning forest but they aren’t sending these aircraft to help us for some reason. Why is there no help?”
Fedot Tumusov, a member of the Russian parliament who represents the region, called the blazes “unprecedented” in their scope.
The forests that cover huge areas of Russia make monitoring and quickly spotting new fires a daunting task.
In 2007, a federal network to spot fires from aircraft was disbanded and had its assets turned over to regional authorities. The much-criticised change resulted in the programme's rapid deterioration.
The Government later reversed the move and re-established the federal agency in charge of monitoring forests from the air. However, its resources remain limited, making it hard to survey the massive forests of Siberia and the Far East.
While some wildfires are sparked by lightning, experts estimate that over 70 percent of them are caused by people, from carelessly discarding cigarettes to abandoned campfires but there are other causes.
Some wildfires are sparked by authorities in controlled burns to clear the way for new vegetation or to deprive unplanned wildfires of fuel. Observers say such intentional burns often are poorly managed and sometimes trigger bigger blazes instead of containing them. Observers say such intentional burns often are poorly managed and sometimes trigger bigger blazes instead of containing them.
Farmers also use the same technique to burn grass and small trees on agricultural lands. Such burns regularly get out of control.
Activists and experts say that fires are also often set deliberately to cover up evidence of illegal lumbering or to create new places for timber harvesting under the false pretext of clearing burned areas. Activists in Siberia and the Far East allege such arson is driven by strong demand for timber in the colossal Chinese market, and they have called for a total ban on timber exports to China.
Officials have acknowledged the problem and pledged to tighten oversight but Russia's far-flung territory and regulatory loopholes make it hard to halt the illegal activity.
Critics blame the 2007 forest code that gave control over timberlands to regional authorities and businesses, eroding centralised monitoring, fuelling corruption and contributing to illegal tree-cutting practices that help spawn fires.
Source: Euro News