A wall of smoke and fire looms over a village in Buryatia, Siberia, 11 May 2016. Photo: Vkontakte / Siberian Times

11 May 2016 (Siberian Times) – Dramatic social media messages from villagers - "Forests are burning!", "Nothing to breathe in Bagdarin village!", "Turka village is on fire!"

Warming weather has unleashed a wave of forest fires, with the Republic of Buryatia, and regions TransBaikal and Amur badly hit. In one day alone 10,000 hectares of forest in the Russian Far East was burned down, with dozens of homes lost.

The scale was less than in Canada's dramatic fires, but is a reminder of the grave threat annually facing many Russian regions. Head of the Federal Forestry Agency Ivan Valentik blames people for much of the carnage.

“99% of all fires in the Amur region, the Trans-Baikal region and Buryatia are caused by people who set fire to grass,” he said. He warned that the tradition of burning dried grass ahead of the sowing season - popular since Soviet times - is now against the law.

“It is now necessary to take all measures to tighten control over compliance with the ban on the burning of dry grass,” he said. “People need to know that by burning grass they violate the law.”

Criminal cases will be brought against those who burn grass, he said.

Map of wildfires in Eastern Russia, 11 May 2016. Graphic: Siberian Times

In Amur region 11 houses were destroyed by fire and 50 people evacuated in Zarechnaya Sloboda village. Some 200 homes were saved by emergency teams. Other houses were lost near Progress and Malinovka villages.

On May 10 the situation worsened because of strong winds - up to 20 metres per second, igniting homes in a matter of minutes, with 27 people left homeless.

In Buryatia the area of wildfires increased in 1.5 times to 11 May with some 18,800 hectares  burning. At one point, fires threatened the republic's capital Ulan-Ude. In TransBaikal region some 11,000 hectares were aflame. [more]

Wildfires rage in Siberia and Russian Far East



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