Fires are spreading across vast Siberian forests in a flashback to the summer of 2010, when the worst drought on record sparked fires that killed dozens of Russians.
The total area of forests gripped by fire in Russia has increased to 11 million-12 million hectares, Grigory Kuksin, head of the Greenpeace Russia fire safety program told Novye Izvestia paper on Friday.
Presently, 180 wildfires are raging across the country, but do not represent a threat to local economies and populated areas, the Emergencies Ministry claimed. The worst of the blazes are concentrated in Russia's Siberian regions of Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Tuva, Khakassia and Irkutsk.
A spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry’s Crisis Center on Friday said that 20,680 people and 4,000 vehicles are fighting the natural disaster.
Firefighting efforts began too late and now only steady rains could put out the flame, Kuksin said. “Of course, firefighters and vehicles are needed to protect residential areas. But these efforts won’t help shrink the wildfires, we already wasted this chance.” According to Greenpeace, the situation is worse now than at the same time in the summer of 2010, when Russia was devastated by forest fires.
There are several factors that could lead to the repetition of summer 2010, Anton Beneslavsky, from the Greenpeace Russia forest department, told Russia Today international TV channel. “First of all, no one was punished for the fire crisis of 2010, when even Moscow suffered. Those people are still there and are still not doing anything,” Beneslavsky said.
“Secondly, there is a new law which obliges fire brigades to get permits to be able to put out fires. There was a case in Astrakhan Region last spring when the fires were already raging but the teams were waiting for their permits to be approved,” he added.
The final reason, Beneslavsky said, is the 2006 forest code, which ruined the whole forest management system.
Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid reported on Thursday that rain has begun in the city of Kemerovo and Tyumen Region’s Yugra district, saving them from a catastrophe. However, according to weather forecasts, rain will come to other Siberia regions only in late August.
In the city of Tomsk, which has been shrouded in smoke, hospitals are prepared to operate in enhanced regime and render medical help to an increased influx of patients.
Moskovsky Komsomolets said that the real scope of the disaster in Tomsk Region has still not been established because local authorities are concealing the true state of affairs from federal officials.
Igor Shaturny, the region’s Deputy Governor, told RIA Novosti on Friday that the total area on fire in the region is 8,800 hectares.
The heat wave has shrunk Siberian rivers, putting river navigation on hold, Moskovsky Komsomolets said. Falling water levels on the Yenisei and Angara rivers have left vessels stranded in the middle of their streambeds.
The press service of Lena United River Shipping Company said 17 vessels have been stranded in theAldan, Olekma and Lena rivers.
The Emergencies Ministry said on Friday, that 16 wildfires with the total area of 2,344 hectares are raging in Yakutia. Children, elderly and handicapped people have been evacuated from the village of Ilbenge located in Yakutia’s Vilyusk District, the regional fire quenching operative staff said.
On Friday, 13 wildfires covering 3,318 hectares were registered in the Siberian Republic of Tuva, the Emergencies Ministry said. Over the last two days, the wildfires there have increased by 640 hectares. A state of emergency has been declared in the region.
Experts say that 80 percent of the wildfires in Tuva are due to dry thunderstorms.
A state of emergency has been introduced in majority of districts of Novosibirsk Region, Governor Vasily Yurchenko said on Friday. The expected grain harvest in the region has been revised downward to 2 million tons from 3 million due to the fires, he said.