Greenpeace Russia: Siberian Wildfires Are Planetary Disaster

49754589_303A satellite view of the forest fires in Siberia, July 21, 2019. Courtesy of Deutsche Welle

Wildfires in Siberia becoming a planetary-scale disaster
Gismeteo
July 29, 2019

Grigory Kuksin, the head of Greenpeace Russia’s firefighting project, called wildfires in Siberia and the Far East a planetary-scale disaster.

Smoke from fires usually moves east or north, but this time it is moving west. Thus, the smoke has engulfed Siberian cities and has reached the Urals. The smell of burning is reported in the Volga Region and Tatarstan.

The wind that changed its direction is expected to bring the smoke to Kamchatka. It may even reach other continents across the ocean, which means it will become a planetary-scale disaster.

Kuksin believes that the smoke will continue to affect the region for a few more weeks. Heavy rain is needed to extinguish such a large fire, but no precipitation is expected.

The expert believes it necessary to reconsider the area of control and implement special measures to avoid similar situations in the future.

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Why There Are So Many Forest Fires in Russia
The scale and aftermath of the disasters are exacerbated by the consumerist mindset of authorities and the lack of resources in a weak economy
Vladimir Ruvinsky
Vedomosti
July 29, 2019

Dense smoke from forest fires has covered cities in Siberia, the Urals, and the Volga region. The fires could have been dealt with at an early stage, but regional authorities avoid fighting fires when they can avoid it due to a lack of money and means.

According to Greenpeace Russia, the fires have encompassed over three million hectares of forest, an area comparable in size to Belgium. The total for the spring and summer of 2019 is eleven million hectares, an area larger than Portugal. During this century, 2003 and 2012 saw worse fire seasons, but Grigory Kuksin of Greenpeace Russia says the records set during those years will probably be beaten this week. Usually, the smoke from the fires drifts towards the sparsely populated east and north. This year, however, the fires have attracted more attention since the smoke has drifted westwards, towards Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, and Kazan.

The current fires are largely a consequence of decision-making by Russian authorities. More than 90% are the burning fires are located in so-called monitoring zones, areas where regional authorities may not fight fires if the expenditures on extinguishing exceed the damage they cause. This regulation was adopted in 2015 when Russian federal authorities basically legalized what had been an implicit rule during Soviet times. But the Soviet authorities had, in fact, fought fires in remote areas. Nowadays, regional governors are not officially obliged to fight them. They take advantage of this, especially because they lack money and equipment.

While Russia has lots of woodlands, its economy is too week to fight all forest fires. Kuksin argues that the gigantic monitoring zones could be decreased while increasing prevention measures and using available resources to better effect. Most fires are caused by people: they are mainly sparked when loggers burn residue wood in logging areas.  Such fires could definitely be put out immediately, but local authorities have made a practice of refusing to fight them. They are the major cause of the biggest fires, which have turned into insoluble problems that only the rains can solve.

The way the authorities see things, the anticipated costs of putting out fires in the monitoring zones are always higher than the damage caused by them. The damage caused by forest fires is primarily calculated in terms of the minimum price of timber. This cost can be written off (and if not, there is no damage), i.e., forest fires often cost almost nothing in terms of official damages. However, as Konstantin Kobyakov, an environmentalist at WWF Russia, points outs, Russia loses three times more forest in fires annually (three million hectares) than the forest industry removes (one million hectares), meaning the country already faces a deficit of woodlands that will only keep growing.

Kuksin recalls that gas and oil industry infrastructure, such as pipelines, is located in the monitoring zones, and uncontrolled blazes are approaching hundreds of villages and small towns. Damage assessment does not account for air and water pollution or the real harm caused to people’s health by acrid smoke, which is harder to calculate but does considerably increase mortality. In addition, stable high-pressure systems have formed over the gigantic fire zone in Siberia, triggering abnormally heavy rains along the perimeter. The fires generate a lot of greenhouse gases and soot, which accelerates the melting of arctic ice and climate change, meaning they increase the risk of more fires in the future.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Baikal on Fire

russia.a2015234.0355.250mLake Baikal in Eastern Russia, the deepest and oldest lake in the world, is home to 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen fresh water.  As of August 24, 2015 this lake is facing a crisis with 36 fires equaling an area of 138,500 hectares (342,240 acres) currently burning around its shores.  The fires which surround the lake are cutting off its water arteries, which can adversely affect the ecological balance of the lake.  At present the depth of the lake is at an all-time low.  As a result, the drier coastline could lead to more summertime wildfires. Soot and ash are washing up on the shores of the lake and the skies above the lake, a popular tourist area, are completely covered in smoke.  So too, an unusually hot summer and a lack of rainfall have contributed to making the situation worse.

This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite on August 22, 2015. Actively burning areas, detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red.  NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team. Caption: NASA/Goddard, Lynn Jenner

source: NASA

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Baikal on fire – ‘it feels like doomsday’
By The Siberian Times reporter
23 August 2015
The Siberian Times

Pristine forests around the world’s oldest lake go up in flames.

Baikal inferno. Picture: Chono Erdenebayar

These unnerving images show the scale of destruction from wildfires close to Lake Baikal, the jewel of Siberia. The sky is aglow over the Republic of Buryatia from the uncontrolled burning, the latest outbreaks of fires that have been destroying forests around the world’s oldest and deepest lake for a number of weeks.

Locals and tourists could only gaze from beaches beside the lake at the impressive but disturbing images from the flames and smoke.

The shocking scenes came amid a warning from a senior politician that wildfires now pose the greatest threat to the lake, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which contains 20% of the unfrozen freshwater on the planet.

Mikhail Slipenchuk, deputy head of the Russian parliament’s committee on natural resources and ecology, said: ‘Fires near the lake’s shores actually kill the water arteries, thus damaging the water balance in the lake’.

Baikal on fire - 'it feels like doomsday'


Baikal on fire - 'it feels like doomsday'


Baikal on fire - 'it feels like doomsday'


Baikal on fire - 'it feels like doomsday'


Baikal on fire - 'it feels like doomsday'
Pictures from around the town of Gremyachinsk, and maps of wildfires around lake Baikal. Pictures: Chono Erdenebayar and Andrey Razyvayev

Some 36 fires are burning over an area of 77,000 hectares, after a hot summer with a lack of rainfall, it was reported.

These pictures were taken by Chono Erdenebayar close to Gremyachinsk, on the shore of Lake Baikal, some 138 km south of Ulan Ude.

‘It feels like doomsday’, said one eyewitness.

On the lake’s eastern shore, the area is famed for its sunny bays and sandy beaches.

Thanks to Echo of Moscow radio and Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov for the heads-up