A wall of flame engulfs trees near Lake Baikal, Siberia, 2 September 2015. Photo: Vitaly Grekov

By Olga Gertcyk
2 September 2015

(The Siberian Times) – The WWF has expressed concern at the wildfires now raging across Siberia, and called for a radical rethink from the authorities to prevent future carnage. But the director of monitoring and prevention at the Ministry of Emergencies pointed to irresponsible officials who, he alleged, chose to go on holiday rather than battle the summer wildfires.

'It's the result of a multitude of factors, natural and artificial alike,' said Viktor Klimkin. 'It hasn't been raining in some areas, the summer has been very dry and hot. There are strong winds blowing the fire at the same time. On top of that, some of regional officials preferred to go on holidays instead of working hard to stop fire. That's why the sources (of fire) which were not cut at the beginning have grown into large fire such as in Irkutsk region and Buryatia.'

Declining to name the guilty officials, he said: 'I'm not a prosecutor or an investigator to name them.'

Nikolai Shmatkov, Director of  WWF-Russia's forestry programme, said: 'The rise in frequency and intensity of forest fires is one of the consequences of global climate change. It will only get worse in the future. Forestry needs a set of measures to adapt to changing circumstances which are impossible to be put in place without investment in research and development, and their application.'

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, some 450,000 hectares [1.1 million acres] are ablaze across Russia with the worst-hit areas in Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia - around Lake Baikal - and the Amur region and the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia.

'The situation with forest fires around Baikal, world's largest freshwater reservoir, is close to catastrophic,' said the WWF. 'Forests have been burning over the last month and a half, as a result, the lake and its shores are covered with smoke. The fire is particularly fierce in Irkutsk region and Buryatia, both regions account for about a half of all the fires stopped - over 200,000 hectares [494,000 acres].

'At the same time, the territory of forests still burning continues growing. Over the last week, the territories on fire almost doubled. The situation in eastern regions of Russia is quite worrying too. The area covered by fires have increased to 73,000 hectares in Yakutia, and to 33,000 hectares in Amur region.

'Experts say that the economy and environment have been hugely affected by the forest fire. Not only residential areas but also the wildlife are threatened.'

Alexander Bryukhanov, WWF forest coordinator warned that Siberia's famous coniferous forests - notably pine, fir and spruce - are being hit hardest. 'These sorts of trees don't have bark strong enough to protect from fire, and they recover very slowly after fire,' he said. 'Mid-sized mammals, such as fox, lynx, hare, marten and others are the most affected.'

According to Rosleskhoz, the Federal Forestry Agency, wildfires have affected 2 million hectares of forest since the beginning of 'fire' season. But citing environmental researchers and scientists of Forestry Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, WWF suggests 'this figure is too low'. The WWF say 'underestimating the problem may lead to further growth of fires and aggravation of the situation in other Russian regions'. [...]

Svetlana Stankevich, from Irkutsk, said: 'It's a horror! There is nothing to breathe and animals are dying. They walk outside the taiga, to the cities. There hasn't been any rain for almost 3 months … Am so sorry for animals, they are dying…' […]

Volunteer firefighter: 'We couldn't work with the Ministry of emergencies because we are no-one to them. The scale of the catastrophe is huge. Everything is burning! The holiday season in Baikal is over, because everything is covered in smoke. Puchkov (the head of the ministry) said he could see the opposite shore of Baikal but that's impossible. We're joking about it. Obviously, we don't have full picture but witnesses say that, for example, Svyatoy Nos peninsula has burnt out by 40% and keeps burning.' [more]

Wildfires around Lake Baikal are 'close to catastrophic', say WWF

[Translation by Bing Translator] (WWF.ru) – Over the weekend, the situation deteriorated: fire rages in Irkutsk and Amur regions, Buryatia, and Yakutia. According to the WWF and other scientists, the area of forest fires is 450 thousand hectares [1.1 million acres].

The situation with forest fires in the region of Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater reservoir, close to disastrous. Fires in effect there for over a month and a half, as a result, the Lake and the surrounding coastal area completely closed smog.

Currently, the most intense fire raging on the territory of Irkutsk oblast and the Republic of Buryatia, firefighters have not liquidated about half of all fires in the country: more than 200 thousand hectares. While burns are not fires continue to grow over the past week, this indicator increased almost twice.

Serious situation in more Eastern regions of Russia. So, in the Republic of Yakutia area active fires had increased to 73 thousand hectares, in the Amur region-up to 33 thousand hectares. Experts note that economy and ecology regions suffered enormous damage, are now threatened not only the surrounding localities, but all the inhabitants of the forest.

“The greatest dark coniferous forests will suffer from the fires, which are represented in the East Siberian taiga pine, spruce and fir stands,” says Alexander Bryukhanov, an expert at WWF forest program in Russia. “Data tree species do not have strong crust to protect against fire and very slow to regrow after fires. Worst of all mammals have medium-sized animals, such as foxes, Lynx, Hare, Mustelidae, and others.”

About Rosleshoza, official data from the beginning of the fire season fires passed 2 million hectares of forests. Environmentalists and scientists (Institute of forest SB RAS) believe that this indicator is significantly understated. Underestimation of the problem could lead to the further widening of fires, exacerbating the situation in other regions of Russia.

“The increasing frequency and intensity increased forest fires is one of the manifestations of climate change. in the future, this problem will only grow," said Nikolai Shmatkov, head of WWF'S forest program in Russia. “Forestry complex of measures is needed to adapt to changing conditions. It is impossible to develop and implement without investing in research and development and implementation.”

On the initiative of the WWF, in the coming days in Moscow will host an extraordinary meeting of the public council at Rosleshoze, to discuss the situation and effective measures that can radically influence it and prevent fire disaster.

WWF calls on: once outside the city, be very careful with fire! The reason for almost every forest, steppe, and peat fire is humans! If you notice a forest fire or burning of dry grass, notify the Ministry by calling 112 or call our direct line of forest protection: 8-800-100-94-0000.

You can also help WWF in fighting fires. Make a donation in the form on the left or send an SMS with the word   “WWF” to number 3443 (the cost of one message is 100 rubles).

WWF: forest fires in Russia has increased to 450 thousand hectares



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