Nearly 3,000 people, 50 aircraft mobilized to fight wildfires in Russia

Heavy smoke covers the centre of eastern Siberian city Chita, Russia, late Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Hundreds of Russian towns and cities are shrouded in heavy smoke from wildfires in Siberia and the Far East Thursday. (Yevgeny Yepachintsev/The Associated Press/The Canadian Press)
Nearly 3,000 people and 50 aircraft are working to extinguish wildfires across Russia said the country’s aerial forest protection service said in a statement on Thursday.

In all, 2,848 people have been mobilized to fight the fires, 27 aircraft are being used for monitoring the burning and another 21 aircraft are being used to help extinguish the blazes. 

Besides planes from the forest protection services, aircraft were also leased from local airlines and Russia’s ministries of Defense and of Emergencies.

Places in Siberia are amongst the hardest hit and include the Irkutsk Region, Krasnoyarsk Territory and the Sakha Republic (Yakutia).

Siberian Fire Stats:
A Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite image taken of Siberian wildfires and plumes of smoke on July 28. (European Space Agency)

Some of the areas in Siberia where authorities are actively working to extinguish fires:

  • Krasnoyarsk Territory: 60 fires covering an area of 24,328 hectares
  • Irkutsk Region: 67 fires covering an area of ​​83,832 hectares
  • Sakha Republic (Yakutia): 20 fires covering an area of ​​1,431 hectares
  • Republic of Buryatia: 3 fires covering an area of 282 hectares

Source: Russia’s federal forestry agency; August 1, 2019

In many regions, authorities are planning to monitor the fires, but will not deploy resources saying there is currently “no threat to human settlements and economic facilities.” 

“The projected cost of extinguishing them exceeds the projected damage that they may cause,” the forestry service said in its statement. 

Health concerns
An activist holds a poster reading “Breath is not economically viable? #Siberiaisburning” while standing in front of Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press/The Canadian Press)

However, Greenpeace Russia disagrees saying smoke from the wildfires is affecting cities across the country.

Unprecedented wildfire season

Fires are a natural part of the boreal forest life cycle but the intensity of the fires in Siberia and other northern regions like Alaska and Greenland this season, have garnered worldwide attention.

The exceptionally hot dry weather in June in many northern regions has boosted the intensity and duration of wildfires, including in Siberia.

“The average June temperature in the parts of Siberia where wildfires are raging, was almost ten degrees higher than the 1981–2010 long-term average,” the WMO said in a July news release. 

Closer to home, Canada has experienced wildfires everywhere from Yukon, in the north-west, to the neighbouring Northwest Territories, as well as the northern region of the western province of Alberta, but has so far been spared the sustained, intense blazes experienced this season in places like Alaska and Russia.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: 2019 Arctic wildfire season ‘unprecedented’ say experts, Eye on the Actic

Finland: Arctic Council experts tackle black carbon risk posed by wildfires, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Better wildfire & agriculture management among recommendations from Arctic Council black carbon expert group, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Arctic summer 2019: record heat, dramatic ice loss and raging wildfires, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Study on Swedish wildfires shows how to make forests rise from the ashes, Radio Sweden

United States: Wildfire smoke brings more respiratory complaints in Anchorage, Alaska, Alaska Public Media

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is a journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North. Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the violent death of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on violence and trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City. Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards. Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China." Twitter: @Arctic_EQ Email: eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

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