By Alexey Eremenko
24 May 2016
MOSCOW (NBC News) – Colossal wildfires in Russia have burned an area the size Vermont and Delaware combined, Greenpeace said Tuesday, amid fears the country could suffer its worst wildfire season in more than 100 years.
The season is still in its early stages, but wildfires blazing across the country's far east have already scorched through more than 11,500 square miles, according to the environmental charity.
The largest area burned in a single wildfire season in the 21st century was 50,000 square miles in 2013 — around the size of Alabama.
Alexey Yaroshenko, the head of Greenpeace Russia's forest program, said that this year may top that figure.
"Most of these wildfires are man-made," he told NBC News by phone.
Many of the blazes are started by villagers who are torching the previous year's grass make way for new growth. But the practice often backfires. This year alone, four settlements have been forced to evacuate before being engulfed by fire, although no casualties have been reported.
Greenpeace and the Russian government disagree about the extent of the fires.
The Federal Forestry Agency told NBC News less than 2,000 square miles has burned so far this year.
It said in a statement that Greenpeace's figures were overstated because they are based on satellite monitoring footage, which it said is unable to differentiate between fire and smoke-engulfed, but otherwise safe areas. [more]
20 May 2016 (Siberian Times) – This is the unnerving scene on a highway linking the city of Chita with Khabarovsk and Vladivostok in the Far East of Russia. Seasonal fires are raging, posing an acute threat to motorists.
Eyewitness Valeria told local Zab TV: “Cars were stopping. The oncoming traffic was not visible at all. We tried to drive very slowly. Then we saw a fuel truck. It rushed through this hell at full speed, with the knowledge that any spark can destroy it.
“The driver obviously feared for his life. It was like hell. A terrible feeling. It was very scary. We saw three forest patrol vehicles. They just stood there and the fire epicentres were right behind them. But they could not do anything. No one helped them.”
Some 24,600 hectares are ablaze in the TransBaikal region and these images from a car video show the reality of the fires. The car was en route from Chita to Mogocha, according to postings on social media. [more]