This image, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite, shows fires burning in parts of Khabarovsk, Amur, and Sakha (Yahkutiya) on July 28, 2011. The large image (download) shows many more fires across the broader region. The fires are marked in red. The Russian government reported 19 large fires in this region on July 28, and RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency, reported 41 fires on July 29. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

By Alexandre Billette, Guardian Weekly
9 August 2011

Only a year ago Russia was overwhelmed by an exceptional heat wave, triggering hundreds of fires that destroyed thousands of hectares of woodland. Burning peat bogs around Moscow stifled the city in a thick cloud of bitter smoke.

Now, Russia is burning again. Since the beginning of this year more than 1m hectares of forest have gone up in flames, or are still burning, outstripping the disastrous record of 2010. But the affected areas are more sparsely populated and far fewer people have been evacuated.

The far north of Russia is among the areas that have suffered the most. During the last week of July, Arkhangelsk and the Komi republic had temperatures exceeding 35C. More than 80 fire outbreaks were reported.

The far east has suffered too. At the beginning of August about 50 fires were raging, especially around Khabarovsk, Yakutsk and the island of Sakhalin. Southern Russia has not escaped: several villages have been evacuated around Rostov-on-Don and Volgograd, where temperatures rose above 40C in July.

In a country that is 97% forest or woodland, fires are an inevitable hazard. But the scale of last year's disaster drew attention to the poor job the Russian authorities were doing to prevent and combat fires. […]

Greenpeace claims that the government is playing down the situation. "Official reports indicate 93 hectares of land on fire in the Amur area; in fact it is more like 50,000 hectares, as can be seen from satellite images," says an NGO spokesperson. […]

Russian forests burn for second successive year

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