There are more forest fires in Siberia than all other fires in the world combined

There are more forest fires in Siberia than all other fires in the world combined
There are more forest fires in Siberia than all other fires in the world combined

In Russia, there are two types of fires raging throughout Siberia: those that the authorities are fighting and others that they allow to burn.

This is due to the fact that Siberia is so vast that huge fires can burn without threatening large settlements, transportation systems or infrastructure, but at the same time being part of a whole strip of hellish fires, which together surpass all other fires in the world.

On the one hand, the Siberian fires are part of the annual cycle. But many climate experts see the staggering scale of this year's wildfires as yet another sign of an increased risk of fires on a warmer planet that could get even hotter due to massive carbon emissions from wildfires.

Russia is fighting more than 170 wildfires in Siberia, which have led to the closure of airports and roads, widespread evacuation and smoke from the North Pole. But she left dozens of other fires covering thousands of square miles with no effort to fight them.

As Russia faces one of its worst fire seasons, environmentalists say the situation, which officials play down every year, is urgent.

“For years, officials and opinion leaders have been saying that fires are normal, that the taiga is always on fire, and there is no need to make a problem out of it. People are used to it,” says Alexei Yaroshenko, a forestry expert at Greenpeace Russia.

Taiga is a belt of coniferous forests around the planet 50-60 degrees north of the equator.

As Russia increasingly faces extreme weather related to climate change, the rapid spread of wildfires in Yakutia - a vast forested Siberian region roughly the size of Argentina - has been accompanied by droughts, the hottest weather on record, and strong winds.

According to Yaroshenko, the fires raging in Siberia outnumber those in Greece, Turkey, Italy, the United States and Canada combined, and analysts warn that this year could surpass the strongest fire year in Russia, 2012.

Past wildfires in Siberia have generated little fuss in the Russian media. This is gradually beginning to change, Yaroshenko said. However, many Russians are unaware of the risk of burning small areas in volatile conditions and are convinced that large fires are the result of powerful criminals or corrupt officials hiding crimes - conspiracy theories for which there is little evidence.

About 7,000 firefighters, agricultural workers, soldiers and other rescuers are fighting wildfires that have burned more than 62,300 square miles since the beginning of the year, according to Greenpeace. This area is almost twice the size of Austria.

Local authorities say they desperately lack volunteers and money to fight the fires.

At the same time, the authorities allow 66 fires to burn unimpeded, because they are too difficult to deal with or they do not threaten residential buildings and economic infrastructure. These fires burned out nearly 8,000 square miles - nearly 10 times the devastating Dixie fire in California.

More than 100 fires in the US this year have burned out 8,977 square miles, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. In Canada, more than 13,000 square miles have burned this year in British Columbia and the Yukon, Manitoba and Ontario, according to the Canadian Wildlife Information System.

In Turkey, fires have burned 681 square miles this year, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.In Greece, the fire went through 424 square miles, and in Italy, 403 square miles burned down, the organization said.

According to Yaroshenko, about half of Russian forests are left unprotected by the regional authorities, mainly due to insufficient funding for firefighting activities.

“These forests play a very important role in the regulation of the environment,” he said. "Most of the forests in the unprotected areas are in the far north. They grow very slowly, they are very sensitive, and if they burn down, the environmental impact is enormous."

Hundreds of fires occur in the forests and plains of Russia every year. Greenpeace bases its data on statistics from Russian fire services that monitor fires.

However, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia takes into account only fires in forest reserves that threaten human settlements, not counting fires in the open steppe or on agricultural land. The ministry estimates that the area covered by wildfires this year is just over 30,000 square kilometers, less than half of Greenpeace's figure.

Despite this, Minister Alexander Kozlov last week called for an increase in the budget for fighting fires by more than 100 percent, from $ 81 million to almost $ 190 million.

Yaroshenko said the big problem is the reflexive, long-standing tendency of regional officials to gloss over local statistics to avoid trouble with their bosses in Moscow.

“Officials are simply lying about the scale, that is, they deliberately distort the data, because each official is responsible for ensuring that there is a beautiful picture,” he said. "In general, it is no longer possible to hide the fire, since everyone can see what is happening from satellite images, but the habit has remained, and they still sometimes try to hide these fires."

The head of the region's forestry, Sergei Sivtsev, told the Kommersant newspaper that the weather in June in central Yakutia was the hottest since 1888.

But officials and state media are minimizing the problem - daily reports tell you how many fires have been extinguished or contained, not how many burned.… According to Yaroshenko, no attention is paid to the loss of vulnerable old-growth forests and there are no estimates of casualties among wild animals.

Aisen Nikolaev, head of the Yakutia region, said last week that climate change is the main cause of the fires.

"We are experiencing the hottest and driest summer in the history of meteorological measurements since the late 19th century," he told RIA Novosti.

Smoke from the Siberian fires covered more than 2 million square miles, spreading across the Arctic and the North Pole, according to satellite images from the European Atmospheric Monitoring Agency Copernicus.

Vladimir Leonov of the Region's Forestry Aviation Service blamed lightning in dry storms for many of the fires provoked.

Many people believe widespread conspiracy theories and rumors that corrupt officials and businessmen set fires to cover up illegal logging. Yaroshenko said that such cases are extremely rare. He said he knew of only two cases.

But the misinformation meant that smallholders or villagers were unaware of the dangers of burning land to clear weeds. Many of them thought that burning dry grass promoted the growth of new grass.

"When people are sure that the forest is being burned for criminal intent, it never occurs to them to exercise caution themselves. But now ordinary people come to the forest and leave fires there, and they no longer pay special attention to these fires."

Last year, Russian fires burned 4.7 billion trees, seven times the number planted, according to a Greenpeace study using satellite imagery. In one month, Russian fires emitted as much carbon into the atmosphere as Sweden did for the whole year.

Summer in Russia is likely to be drier and hotter, according to a report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released on Monday. About a third of Siberia's permafrost will melt by the end of the century, even if global carbon emissions are sharply reduced, the report said.

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