GFMC: Forest Fires in the Russian Federation

Forest Fires  in the Russian Federation  

06 August 2010

Latest MODIS scenes:

Source: MODIS Terra scene (acquired on 6 August 2010, 500m resolution).

GFMC analysis (comment inserted ex-post on this web page on 18 August 2010): By 16 August 2010 it has been noted that a wrong algorithm for the calculation of area burned had been applied since the beginning of 2009.The corrected data for the whole fire season are published starting 18 August 2010. A 2010 summary will be published at the end of the fire season.

Fire danger map for August for Eastern Siberia:

Source: Sukachev Institute for Forest, Krasnoyarsk

Avialesookhrana from the National Forest Fire Centre of Russia provides up-to-date NOAA images for the whole of the Russian Federation and neighbour territories. The Space Monitoring Information Support Laboratory provides extensive links to sites with satellite imagery for the Russian Federation, meteorological information as well as fire related images are accessible.

The NOAA AVHRR satellite image composite shows fire activities in the Russian Federation.

click to enlarge (360 KB)

Latest (06 August 2010 09:00 GMT) NOAA 12&14 AVHRR composite
The red squares indicate regions of active fires (MODIS Detection). For details the GFMC readers are encouraged to use the hyperlinks provided by Avialesookhrana, the Aerial Forest Fire Protection Service of the Federal Forest service of Russia.
(Source: Avialesookhrana cloudiness maps)

Wildfire  situation report of  the Aerial Forest Fire Center of Russia (Avialesookhrana)

5 August, 2010
According to the wildfire situation report of 5 August 2010 a total of 545 fires affected 25,559 ha forested and 5,287 ha non-forested lands. 135 fires of them were reported as new fires.

Through all of Russia 15,678 people, 58 aircraft, 2,649 bulldozers, tractors and engines have been involved in fire fighting.

Since the beginning of the 2010 fire season a total of 24,937 fires affected 647,079 ha forested and 219,664 ha non-forested lands of the Forest Fund of Russia.

Most fires have been reported in the following regions:
Sverdlovsk region – 63
Kirovsk region – 42
Moscow region – 28
Komi republic – 93
Vladimir region – 29

There are large fires in following regions:
Ivanovo region – 5 fires, burning area 16,717 ha forested lands and and 2,208 ha non-forested lands.
Vladivir region – 28 fires, burning area 19,514 ha forested lands.
Nizhniy Novgorod region – 31 fires, burning area 105,604 ha forested lands and 29,535 ha non-forested lands.
Ryazan region – 13 fires, burning area 48,400 ha forested lands and 6,770 ha non-forested lands.
Sverdlovsk region – 14 fires, burning area 12,250 ha forested lands.

Source: Aerial Forest Fire Center of Russia (Avialesookhrana)
Prepared for GFMC by Andrey Eritsov and Andrey Usachev

Eurasian Experimental Fire Weather Information System
The system has been developed by forest fire researchers from Canada, Russia and Germany is displayed on this website starting 18 July 2001. Complete information and a set of daily fire weather and fire behaviour potential maps covering Eurasia (the Baltic Region, Eastern Europe, countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Mongolia) can be accessed at:

Example of the Eurasian Experimental Fire Weather Information System:
Latest map of the Experimental Fire Weather Index (FWI) for Russia and neighbouring countries

Daily Fire Occurrence and Fire Danger Maps of the Fire Laboratory of the Sukachev Institute of Forest, Krasnoyarsk
Selected fire occurrence maps, satellite images and a forest fire danger map are prepared daily by the Russian GFMC correspondent Dr. Anatoly Sukhinin, Fire Laboratory of the Sukachev Institute of Forest, Krasnoyarsk, in collaboration with the Emergency Situation Monitoring and Forecasting Agency, Krasnoyarsk branch. The maps are produced on the base of satellite data (classification by the NOAA AVHRR). They show the fire locations (by latitude and longitude) and the area affected by fire (red signature, size in ha). The red arrow at each fire location points to the nearest populated place. The terms Oblast or Kray used in the maps are designations of administrative regions. A map showing the boundaries of administrative regions and a legend is included below.

ru_fire_legend.gif (937 Byte)

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Map legend

Administrative boundaries

Overview map showing large fire locations detected over the last 10 days:

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Latest maps maps showing fire activities of  06 August 2010 (selection):

click to enlarge (40-50 KB) click to enlarge (40-50 KB) click to enlarge (40-50 KB) Chelyabinsk Region Omsk Region /
Novosibirsk Region Nizhni Novgorod Region

More maps of other regions are available on request:

News from the media:

Fires in Russia, Wheat Production, and Volatile Markets: Reason to Panic?

Recent events in Russia, one of the largest suppliers of wheat in the world, have raised concern about the current and future price of wheat and wheat-based products. This article briefly examines the issue and determines if there is in fact cause for serious alarm.

Watch on You Tube Copyright © International Food Policy Research Institute

Full_Report(PDF), Source:

Kazakhstan Emergency Ministry To Send Two Helicopters To Russia

Kazakhstan Emergency Ministry will send two helicopters equipped with fire extinguishing equipment, to assist Russia in fighting against forest and peat fires, that have hit the country since July 30, Khabar News Agency said Friday.

The two aircraft namely Mil Mi-8 and Mil Mi-171, with a crew from KazAviaSpas will be flying to Aktobe so as to arrive at the base in Samara in the morning, to start their participation in the recovery of the emergency situation.

Emergency Recovery Department Director Dikhanbek Satylganov said Kazakhstan decided to render its assistance following Russia’s suffering from burning peat, and as well as help Russia to strengthen the firefighting efforts.

Forest fires raging across central Russia in a heatwave that has killed more than 30 people.

Media reports have catalogued the enormous scale of the damage, with lost harvests worth 1 billion euros (US$1.32 billion) and thousands of hectares of forest destroyed.

6 Countries Join Russian Firefighters

Firefighters battling the worst blazes that Russia has seen in decades got a welcome boost Thursday when aircraft, firetrucks and personnel arrived to help from Italy and five former Soviet republics.

France, Germany, Poland and Bulgaria have also offered to help douse the wildfires, which were burning on a total of 196,000 hectares in central Russia on Thursday, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

Three Italian jets, which arrived in Moscow at about 5 p.m. Thursday, will fight fires in the Moscow region, the ministry said.

Two Armenian jets carrying four water pumps were dispatched to the Nizhny Novgorod region, while two Azeri jets were assigned to the Lipetsk region, and two Kazakh helicopters will assist firefighters in the Samara region.

Two Ukrainian firefighting units joined two Ukrainian An-32 jets in the Voronezh region on Thursday.

Belarus sent a helicopter and 150 firefighters to the Ryazan and Vladimir regions and promised to dispatch 20 firefighting vehicles.

Belarus had planned to send two helicopters, but the Emergency Situations Ministry refused, saying it only needed one, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified ministry official.

Nevertheless, the ministry is “willing to accept aid from foreign colleagues,” spokeswoman Irina Andrianova told Interfax.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych canceled a Crimean vacation to personally oversee preventive measures against fires that may spread to eastern Ukraine from Russia.

The Ukrainian Emergency Situations Ministry denied reports that fires had reached a restrictive zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power station.

Finnish firefighters were also on alert as Russian blazes neared their country’s border.

Belarussian firefighters put out 10 wildfires near the Russian border Wednesday, Interfax reported.

The fire death toll in Russia rose to 50, with two bodies found under the ruins of burned-out houses in the Nizhny Novgorod and Voronezh regions. About 600 fires were burning countrywide Thursday, the Emergency Situation Ministry said.

The Defense Ministry denied reports that a secret communications center of the General Staff had burned down in the Moscow region. It also denied reports earlier this week that wildfires had reached a military supply base near Kolomna in the Moscow region, but later acknowledged that the base had been ravaged. The base fire prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to dismiss five Navy officials Wednesday.

The number of people left homeless by wildfires has topped 3,500, and Regional Development Minister Viktor Basargin promised to provide them with new housing by Oct. 20.

The heavy smog that blanketed Moscow cleared on Thursday, but air pollution will remain high for the next few days, the federal weather bureau said Thursday. Record-setting high temperatures are expected to remain until at least Aug. 10 and may top 40 degrees Celsius over the weekend, RIA-Novosti reported.

Smog Shrouds Moscow, Disrupts Air Traffic

Moscow was shrouded by a thick blanket of smog rising from raging peat fires Friday, disrupting air traffic at two international airports in the Russian capital city.

Worst smog to hit Moscow has seeped into homes and offices, forcing many people to wear masks as it contained toxic gases and other pollutants.

Poor visibility due to dense smog grounded flights at international airports in Domodedovo and Vnukovo to the south of Moscow.

Fifteen planes bound for Domodedovo airport were diverted to other airports overnight, significantly delaying outgoing flights on the same planes. At Vnukovo, visibility was reduced to 300 meters on the runway.

Storms are forecast in Moscow which experienced some thunder and lightning overnight without the clouds opening up. Temperatures rose to 40 degrees Celsius on Friday.

The unprecedented heat wave in the last 130 years and drought triggered the worst wildfires to hit central Russia and along the Volga River in decades. The raging fire has killed 50 people so far.

Russia imposed a temporary ban on the export of grain and other agriculture products made from grain in the wake of extreme drought, sending wheat price to the highest point in nearly two years.

President Dmitry Medvedev declared a state of emergency in 28 crop-producing regions. The presidential decree restricts public access to the affected areas in the regions.

About 500 towns and villages, where wildfires are burning, come under the emergency, reports say.

Russia’s deadly blaze to blame for valley’s haze

The haze in the air in the southern Willamette Valley most likely isn’t from the Rooster Rock Fire near Sisters, according to the National Weather Service.

It’s not even from the 193 square miles ablaze in British Columbia, weather service meteorologist Jonathan Wolfe said. The B.C. smoke is headed “somewhere east,” he said.

The south valley skies are, instead, smudged by Russia’s killer wildfires that have burned 756 square miles, taken the lives of 50 people and destroyed one-fifth of Russia’s grain crop.

“You can see (smoke) on the satellite,” Wolfe said. “The prevailing wind is west-to-east. Follow the currents, and it puts it over here.”

“You see a wispy haze, very faint and thin but perceptible. It’s coming over across the Aleutian Peninsula, down across the Gulf of Alaska and right into our area,” he said.

The smoke rising from the Russian fires — the flaming forests and peat bogs — is soaring six miles into the stratosphere, according to the NASA Earth Observatory.

“At such heights, smoke is able to travel long distances to affect air quality far away,” according to the agency.

The southern end of the Willamette Valley is more than 5,400 miles from Moscow, where a cluster of the troublesome fires burn. The drought-fueled fires started in July and multiplied to 589 individual blazes scattered across the Russian countryside.

Smoke particulate — as measured here by Lane Regional Air Protection Agency nephelometers — spiked locally on Monday, which was the same day Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared a state of emergency in seven regions of Russia.

Locally, the fine particulate peaked again on Thursday — but didn’t go high enough to cause respiratory problems, said Ralph Johnston, meteorologist at LRAPA.

“Our air quality is quite good,” he said. “The levels (of smoke) are low enough that I don’t think even sensitive folks would be looking at a problem.”

The haze, he said, is at the upper levels of the atmosphere.

“We’re measuring what people breathe down here,” Johnston said. “That smoke, you’re not breathing. You’re seeing it up there, but you’re not breathing it.”

Medvedev Disciplines Top Naval Commanders for Negligence

A thick haze of acrid and choking smoke from wildfires mixed with car engine emissions blankets Moscow. A record heat wave has engulfed most of European Russia for more than a month with temperatures exceeding 35 degrees celsius.

According to official figures, by August 4, wildfires had killed 48 and destroyed 1,267 homes. Some 240,000 have been mobilized to fight the fires, but weather forecasters do not promise rain or any letup in the heat anytime soon. In Moscow, more accustomed to the harsh cold, public transport (including the metro) does not have any air-conditioning equipment or proper ventilation, as well as most homes, many public buildings and hospitals. The choking smoke and toxic gasses from the wildfires, including carbon monoxide, have penetrated the Moscow metro that carries up to 5 million passengers on workdays. The temperatures at some metro stations are approaching 35 degrees celsius. Doctors advise residents in Moscow to close all windows tight and stay at home if possible (Interfax, August 4).

Russians are bewildered and angry as the authorities seem to be unable to help them. Russia’s leaders –President, Dmitry Medvedev, and Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin– seem to be angry too. Last weekend, during a videoconference with local officials and governors, Putin compared the present crisis with the medieval invasions of Russia by Turkish-speaking nomads, German knights and Hitler’s Germany during World War II. “Russia survived everything and will again,” announced Putin, “Only if we consolidate and work effectively together.” Putin declared that now is not the time to apportion blame (, July 31).

Medvedev was forced, on August 4, to cut short his holiday in his summer Black Sea residence in Sochi and return to Moscow in a belligerent mood. At a Security Council meeting in the Kremlin Medvedev promised to immediately oust any officials guilty of allowing the fires to destroy “strategic facilities” and disciplined top naval commanders for negligence (, August 4).

An Internet news site,, first reported that on July 29, flames tore through a secret naval airbase in Kolomna, 100 kilometers (km) south-east of Moscow, destroying up to 200 aircraft worth 20 billion rubles ($600 million). Initially, the defense ministry tried to cover up the story by first declaring it to be erroneous, and then admitting that it was not an “airbase,” but logistic base office buildings, warehouses with unneeded equipment and vehicles were destroyed without any loss of life (ITAR TASS, August 3). It was later reported that the base in question –Central Air and Technical naval base (also known as base 2512)– has been used for 60 years to supply the entire naval aviation force with avionics, armaments, jet engines and other essential equipment (Interfax, August 3).

Medvedev did not elaborate about the equipment lost at base 2512, but implied “the consequences were heavy,” and that it was a result of “criminal negligence.” Medvedev officially reprimanded the Commander of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, and his First Deputy and Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Alexander Tatarinov. Medvedev fired the Russian navy’s Chief of Logistics, Rear Admiral Sergei Sergeyev, and the Chief of Naval aviation, Major-General Nikolai Kuklev. Medvedev ousted three colonels: the commandant of 2512 base and two of Kuklev’s deputies. Under orders from Medvedev, Defense Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, ousted five officers that served at base 2512 (Kommersant, August 5). Medvedev declared that further dismissals were possible later, after the entire crisis is finally defused (, August 4).

The severity of the punishment handed out by Medvedev for a fire at a supply base that did not involve any human casualties surely reflects his overall anger, but also would indicate a large quantity of essential equipment was lost. The replacement of supplies lost at base 2512 could require billions of rubles, years of effort and, in some cases, may be simply impossible as the crisis in Russia’s defense industry has made the production of some essential components virtually impossible. Elements of Russian naval aviation could be grounded for a long time and maybe indefinitely, including the Su-33 jet fighters on Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Kuznetsov. The Su-33 is no longer produced and reportedly at least four new Su-33 jet engines were destroyed at base 2512 (Vedomosti, August 5). The 2512 base contained 65,000 tons of equipment, which might have been entirely destroyed. An airborne forces supply base (3370) was damaged by fire near the 2512 base, but its losses seem less significant (Kommersant, August 4).

Fires have approached the Machine-building Construction Bureau in Kolomna that makes guided missiles, the Novovoronez nuclear power station near Voronez and the Tryokhgorny nuclear closed city in the Urals (Soviet code name –Zlatoust-36) that specializes in the assembly and dismantling of nuclear warheads. According to Rosatom’s Chief, Sergei Kiriyenko, the most dangerous situation has developed in the closed nuclear city of Sarov (Arzamas-16) where wildfires have penetrated the perimeter and advanced towards nuclear arms producing facilities. Kiriyenko assured Medvedev that “all explosive and radioactive material has been removed,” and guaranteed that even in a worst case scenario, that the fire is out of control, there will be no nuclear explosions or radioactive contamination (, August 4).

The first Soviet nuclear weapon was made in 1949, in Sarov at the Institute of Experimental Physics, which continues to be the main nuclear design and production facility in Russia. Sarov is home to the electro-mechanical factory Avangard, specializing in warhead production and dismantling. Kiriyenko, referring to the speedy evacuation of “all explosive and radioactive material” is an apparent reference to the movement of live warheads that combine arms-grade plutonium, uranium, heavy water and high explosives initiating a nuclear blast. The threat of a nuclear explosion may indeed be remote, but removing all dangerous and radioactive materials from Sarov that has a closed territory of 260 square km and a population of 81,000, would be a challenge to accomplish in several hours, as Kiriyenko claims. The emergency movement to safety of possibly hundreds of tons of nuclear arms grade materials (capable of making thousands of bombs) is itself a highly risky endeavor.

It is unclear, where today in Russia it is truly safe. Medvedev has also ordered the Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliev, to use his forces “not to allow anarchy to develop”

Greenpeace of Russia: Coming weekend days may become most fire dangerous in forests of the central Russia (6 August 2010)

According to forecasts of meteorologists, the drought and a heat will proceed, some essential rains in the foreseeable future are not expected yet. Forests in the majority of regions have dried up so that from any thrown stub, camp fire or a spark from engine may cause large forest or peat fire. Thus to catch it in due time to find out the ignitions caused by them there is nobody – workers of a forestry with the last bit of strength extinguish numerous existing forest fires, the state forest protection is liquidated three and a half a year ago. There is no prompt assistance from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, militia (police) and army.

Now the most critical situation with forest fires are in Meshchersky lowland in adjacent areas of the Moscow, Ryazan and Vladimir areas. The most dangerous fires, including menacing to settlements, operate in Luhovitsky, Egoryevsk, Orehovo-Zuevsky and Shatursky areas of Moscow Region, Gus-crystal area of Vladimir region, Klepikovsky, Rybnovsky, Ryazan and Spassky areas of the Ryazan region. For last days the situation with forest fires in all this territory has worsened.

In other territory of the European Russia the situation with forest fires also remains to the critical, the quantity of fires continues to increase, there are all new and new large peat fires, intensity of air pollution by a smoke, in particular the peat grows. The quantity of forest fires in regions of the European North where until recently conditions were concerning quiet increases. There are first fires in the regions polluted by radioactive isotopes as a result of Chernobyl accident (in the Bryansk region) – while these fires are under control, but the situation becomes more and more dangerous.

Almost all fires arising in forests of the European Russia now, are caused by carelessness of people of in woods and in adjoining territories. While authentically confirmed cases of occurrence of fire from the natural reasons (or peat self-ignition) are not present dry thunder-storms. The main reasons of occurrence of fires – the thrown stubs, the left fires, arsons of a dry grass, driving vehicles in forests.

Russia fires pose nuclear threat, death toll hits 50

The Russian government warned on Thursday that the country’s deadliest wildfires in nearly four decades posed a nuclear threat if they are not contained, as the death toll rose to 50 and the blazes continued to spread.

The worst heatwave in more than a century is set to intensify on Friday, with record temperatures of 40 celsius (104 fahrenheit) expected and to continue into the next week, weather forecasters said.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced a ban on exports of grain and grain products from Aug. 15 until December, and his spokesman said it would apply also to contracts already signed.

Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said heat from fires in the Bryansk region, which already has nuclear contamination from the Chernobyl disaster more than 20 years ago, could release harmful radioactive particles into the atmosphere.

“In the event of a fire there, radionuclides could rise (into the air) together with combustion particles, resulting in a new pollution zone,” he said on state television, without going into detail.

Shoigu added two fires had already broken out in the Bryansk region, some 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Moscow, but they were quickly contained.Forest and peat bog fires have burned hundreds of homes, leaving thousands homeless in the hottest summer since records began 130 years ago, prompting leaders to declare a state of emergency in seven of the worst-hit regions.

The territory covered by wild fires increased to 756 sq miles on Thursday from 730 sq miles a day ago, according to the Emergencies Ministry website.

Health Minister Tatyana Golikova told a government meeting that 44 people across the country had died in the fires themselves, while six had died in hospitals, taking the death toll to 50, two more than the day before.

Temperatures in Moscow topped 36C but a change of wind direction provided some respite in the capital by blowing away oppressive and toxic smoke that had blanketed the city.

Health officials said on Thursday that Moscow’s air had become relatively clean again, Interfax reported.

The temperature may beat last week’s 38C absolute record on Friday, topping 40C, and remain at 35-38C throughout next week, the deputy director of Rosgidromet meteorological service, Gennady Eliseev, told Itar-Tass news agency.

The extreme heat may only abate after Aug. 23, he said.

The military prosecutor for the Moscow region gave orders to protect military sites in the Moscow region after there were widespread reports that a communications centre belonging to the country’s General Staff was burned down in the Moscow region.
The Ministry of Defence denied the reports. However, it also denied last week that fire had ravaged a naval base. President Dmitry Medvedev sacked several senior navy officers on Wednesday after it was revealed that the blaze had indeed occurred.

Russia moves rockets as wildfires spread

A Russian military garrison near Moscow moved all its artillery rockets to a safer location as wildfires advanced in the region, the government said Thursday.

Col. Alexei Kuznetsov, a Defense Ministry spokesman, told The Associated Press that the garrison near Naro-Fominsk, 70 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Moscow, was not in immediate danger. But the decision to move the explosive materiel underlined the challenges posed by the hundreds of fires raging in Russia after weeks of intense heat and drought.

A wildfire leapt into a Russian naval air base outside Moscow last week, causing substantial damage; Russian media reported as many as 200 planes may have been destroyed. Kuznetsov did not give details of where the rockets were moved to, or when the operation occurred.

In neighboring Ukraine, also suffering from heat and lack of rain, a wildfire on Thursday was within three kilometers (two miles) of a military base in the Dnirpropetrovsk region, local news reports said. The regional emergencies ministry said only that a 300-hectare (750-acre) fire was close to being extinguished. In all, wildfires in eastern Ukraine have destroyed about 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres).

Almost 600 fires were reported burning in Russia on Thursday, mostly in the western stretches of the country. The death toll from the fires stands at 50.

Earlier, a shelter with some 1,800 animals near Moscow reported that it had been threatened by fires and that one had approached within 150 meters (yards) before being extinguished. But shelter director Daria Taraskina said late Thursday that there were no blazes nearby, though concern remained high for the dogs, cats and retired circus animals at the facility in Khoteichi, 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of Moscow.

Thick smog that had blanketed Moscow partially lifted early Thursday but could return with no end in sight to a record heat wave, officials warned.

Temperatures up to 100 F (38 C) have exacerbated forest and peat bog fires across Russia’s central and western regions, destroying close to 2,000 homes. Officials have suggested the 10,000 firefighters battling the blazes aren’t enough. The forecast for the week ahead shows little change in the capital and surrounding regions, where the average summer temperature is around 23 (75).

In the blaze-ravaged village of Plotava, 35 miles (60 kilometers) east of Moscow, local official Viktor Sorokin lamented that the number of fire wardens in woodland and peat bog areas had halved to 150 in the last few years under new rules.

“There used to be more of them, now there aren’t enough,” he said.

Some locals are taking the initiative to make up the shortfall in firefighters.

“We woke up several days ago and we couldn’t breathe,” said Alexander Babayev, a 27-year-old owner of a drive-in theater, before taking a hose to low rising flames flickering above the smoldering ground.

Babayev assembled a motley team of volunteers using a social networking website and, after a few instructions from professionals, they began tending to fires.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has promised to build new, better homes before winter, and vowed each victim would receive $6,600 in compensation. The sum is huge in a country whose average monthly wage is around $800, and Russian media say some residents may have deliberately torched their dwellings to qualify.

To the east, firefighters focused on beating flames back from a top-secret nuclear research facility in the city of Sarov. A Sarov news website on Thursday cited local officials as saying a wall of fire had been broken down into several smaller blazes. On Wednesday, officials said the closest blaze was still several miles (kilometers) from the main facilities at the Russian Federal Nuclear Research Center and as a precaution all hazardous materials had been evacuated.

In the capital, President Dmitry Medvedev fired several high-ranking military officials Wednesday over what he called criminal negligence in fires that ravaged a military base.

Russia has been sent helicopters and planes to help douse the flames from Ukraine, Armenia, Italy, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said in televised comments.


Health alarm as wildfire smog smothers Moscow

Smog from wildfires in the countryside cloaked Moscow on Friday, with the levels of toxic particles, raising alarm over public health and numerous commuters wearing anti-pollution masks.

The city’s most famous landmarks like the spires of the Kremlin towers or the onion domes of Orthodox churches were largely invisible from a distance as Muscovites wheezed their way through the smog into work.

“Smog has covered the entire city and the situation is getting worse,” said Alexei Popikov of Moscow’s pollution monitoring service Mosekomonitoring on state television.

Air traffic was disturbed at one of Moscow’s main international airports — Domodedovo in the south of the city — with planes taking off normally but some aircraft landing at airports elsewhere due to the smoke.

Mosekomonitoring said that this week that the concentration of toxic particles in the air was higher than the norm by a factor of 20 in some areas and even people in good health should consider staying at home.

Early morning commuters were wearing anti-pollution masks as pharmacists reported a huge spike in sales of the masks.

Forecasters warned that the record heatwave was going to continue in the coming days, with little rain forecast and the mercury again expected to hit 38 degrees Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) later.

Russia is battling its worst forest fires in modern history with emergency services still struggling to contain the flames.

Criticism of leaders grows as Russian wildfires burn on (Roundup)

Criticism of political leaders was growing Thursday in parts of Russia affected by woodland and peat bog wildfires that have been raging for weeks, whilst the government banned all exports of grains from August 15.

Several hundred residents of the Vladimir region near Moscow had sent a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev demanding the resignation of governor Nikolai Vinogradov, the daily Kommersant reported.

He had been relaxing while the fires took hold of the area, the residents wrote. Vinogradov has denied the accusations.

The Civil Defence Ministry early Thursday put the number of forest and peat bog fires in the country at 850. Medvedev broke off his summer holiday Wednesday to chair a crisis committee meeting in Moscow.

The fires, which according to official figures have killed 50 people so far, follow the hottest summer in the country in 130 years. Temperatures have hovered around 35 degrees celsius for weeks.

Humanitarian organizations say the number of those killed could be much higher. Thousands of people have been made homeless. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers and firefighters have been deployed in teh efforts to douse the flames.

‘The magnitude of this catastrophe shows the breakdown of the government,’ Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov told the news agency Interfax on Thursday. He directed his crititism at then president, now prime minister, Vladimir Putin, for the 2007 forestry law he introduced.

The law placed responsibility for fire precautions with tenants and local authorities, rather than with the forestry authority as in earlier times.

Meanwhile, government spokesman Dmitry Pezkov told the Interfax news agency that the government had imposed a three-and-a-half month ban on grain exports.

Russia is one of the world’s largets grain exporters. Moscow analysts have warned that failure to keep delivery promises could mean Russia loses its hard-fought-for position in international grain markets.

Food prices have already risen by 15 per cent since news that much of the Russian harvest had been destroyed by the wildfires was reported. Wheat prices reached a two-year high at the beginning of the week at the Paris-based futures trading market Matif.

German carmaker Volkswagen on Thursday reopened its factory in Kaluga, south of the capital, after shutting it the day before due to concerns about the effect of smoke on factory workers.

The nuclear research centre in Sarov, 400 kilometres east of Moscow, was still under threat from wildfires surrounding it.

Overnight to Thursday volunteers had prevented the flames from coming any closer to the buildings, experts from the Civil Defence Ministry told the Interfax news agency.

Moscow’s 10-million-strong population was able to breathe easier Thursday as the smog caused by peat bog fires began to lift.

Operations at the city’s three international airports were running as normal, an airport spokesman said. On Wednesday thick smoke had caused hour-long delays. Meteorologists have however predicted temperatures of around 40 degrees in the days to come.

In Togliatti on the River Volga, 1,700 people had to be evacuated to safety due to thick smoke after a park caught fire.

Russia struggles as wildfires spread

Russia struggled yesterday to contain the worst wildfires in its modern history that have killed 50 people, with the blazes spreading to the country’s south and raising concerns about radiation levels.

With the severest heat wave in Russia in decades affecting areas as diverse as sales of anti-pollution masks and agricultural yields, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dramatically banned grain exports until Dec. 31.

“We have seen over the last 24 hours a decrease in the number of fires but not so much that we can rejoice,” Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a news conference.

Shoigu expressed alarm that the situation was worsening in the south -so far spared the worst of the fires -including Rostov, which is not one of the seven Russian regions where a state of emergency has been declared.

“Today, the situation has been getting worse in the Rostov region and we can note a movement of the fires toward the south,” he said.

Shoigu said that the emergency services were working flat out to prevent the fires spreading to a region in western Russia where the soils are still contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe of 1986 in neighbouring Ukraine.

“We are painstakingly controlling the situation in the Bryansk region.

“If a fire appears there, the radioactive particles could fly away with the smoke and a new polluted area could appear.”

The death toll rose to 50 after a corpse was found in a burned-down house in the Nizhny Novgorod region and another victim died in hospital in the Voronezh region, the ministry said.

According to the ministry, 162,000 emergency workers have been deployed to douse the flames, which have been raging in the affected area in central Russia for a week.

Officials have lashed out at weekend picnickers who exacerbated the situation by leaving burning campfires that turned into major blazes. But there has been no suggestion of deliberate arson.

The thick smog from the wildfires that has pervaded Moscow and raised alarm over public health lifted somewhat yesterday.

Pharmacists nonetheless reported huge sales of protective masks.

There was no sign yet of the heat wave abating.

Temperatures were again forecast to hit 40 degrees Celsius in Moscow yesterday, and the hot weather was expected to last at least another five days.

Russian villagers tell of wildfire misery

Set in a clearing in the midst of a thick forest, it had been just a matter of time before the winds changed direction and started fanning the flames towards the cluster of wooden houses.

As the fires took hold, gas cylinders used in each home for cooking started exploding.

“It took just 20 minutes for a house to burn down,” said Alexei, whose family live in the village.

“People only managed to take their passports and other documents; there wasn’t time to take anything else.”

Located 80 miles (130km) south-east of Moscow, half the village is now in ruins, looking like the site of a ferocious battle.

The scorched metal remains of beds, chairs and sledges, lie in deep piles of warm ash.

The shells of cars provide evidence of the panic, as the flames swept along the street leaving no time for people to find keys so they could drive away.

‘Little help’

Stripped down to his waist in the continuing heatwave, Alexei pointed to the sweep of blackened earth which stopped just a few metres from his own family’s home.

“The wind changed direction at the last minute,” he said.

It is the only reason the house is still standing.

Those whose homes were spared now face the dilemma of whether to stay or join the other villagers who are now being looked after in a nearby town, where they are receiving some government aid.

Lyudmilla Borisovna, a pensioner who has lived in Kadanok for seven years, has decided to stay because her life is here.

But she is well aware of the risk she is taking after seeing how little help they received from the emergency services to save the village earlier this week.

“When my neighbours first tried to call the fire brigade they were told firemen only start work only after six o’clock in the morning”, she said.

“But they had not even arrived at seven o’clock.”

Others in the village described the fire brigade as all but useless, driving around in “ancient trucks”.

“Here we do everything ourselves,” says Alexei.

As we stood talking, the comparatively calm atmosphere suddenly changed.

The state of permanent grey twilight caused by smoke from fires burning in other parts of the region, had lifted.

The wind was strengthening.

A few minutes earlier visibility had been limited to less than twenty metres and everyone was breathing reluctantly.

‘Uncertain fate’

Now we could see the beauty of the surrounding fields and forest, and the air almost felt fresh.

But the strong gusts of wind also re-ignited a series of fires very close to the village, the plumes of smoke multiplying fast.

It made it much easier to understand how fires can surround villages and trap people inside their homes.

This time the remaining houses in Kadanok were spared as the wind died down as quickly as it had risen.

Next time they may not be so lucky.

In the absence of a large, well-equipped and well-organised fire-fighting force, hundreds of villages across Russia now face the same uncertain fate as Kadanok.

And it is a very uneven battle: villagers armed with buckets and spades trying to defend wooden houses against fast-moving forest and peat fires.

Even senior fire officers in this region refuse to say whether the villages can be saved.

“I can’t make any promises for the future,” says Major Alek Betlov, head of the fire safety department.

“This is nature, it’s not controllable.”

Wildfires Ravaging Swaths of Russia

Wildfires that have overwhelmed Russia’s firefighting services and burned freely through large swaths of the heat-seared countryside have claimed 52 lives, clouded Moscow in smoke and on Friday forced the military to transfer rockets away from a garrison near the capital.

More than 800 wildfires had been reported across Russia by the end of the week, with most in western and central parts of the country, which is sizzling in its worst heat wave since record-keeping began more than 130 years ago.

Temperatures have been spiking since mid-June, and no relief was in sight on Friday, when temperatures in Moscow were forecast to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, about 25 degrees higher than usual.

A thick milky haze shrouds the city, and many Muscovites who did venture out peered with red-rimmed eyes over the tops of surgical masks or wetted handkerchiefs.

By 1:40 p.m., the city’s environmental protection agency said the concentrations of carbon monoxide were five times higher than acceptable levels, while particulate pollution was three times higher.

The heavy smoke disrupted flights into Moscow. At Domodedovo Airport, visibility on the runways was down to less than 400 yards on Friday, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. Dozens of arrivals were delayed or late, the airport reported on its Web siteearly Friday afternoon.

Outside the capital, artillery rockets housed at the Alabinsk base, about 45 miles southwest of Moscow, were moved to safer ground away from the fires, a Defense Ministry spokesman told reporters.

The fires posed a threat of a different nature when they burned through forests toward a nuclear missile warning center outside Moscow; the center’s fire brigades suppressed two fires on Friday that had threatened the site, news agencies reported, citing a Russian Space Forces spokesman.

Russia’s President, Dmitri A. Medvedev, fired five military officers last week for allowing a fire to burn through hangars at an air force base near the capital, and he has upbraided governors and other lower-level officials.

On Friday, a presidential aide, Georgy Poltavchenko, said in the state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that mayors will face a “debriefing” and that those found to have lagged in their response to the fires “will be brought to justice.”

Local officials in Russia have faced accusations of taking inadequate measures to prevent fires and of failing to respond effectively to the blazes. Last week, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin called for the resignations of local leaders who were not dealing with the crisis.

Earlier this week, material was transferred from a nuclear research facility in Sarov in the Nizhny Novgorod region, about 310 miles east of Moscow, as fires approached, removing any threat of explosions at the center, said Sergei Kirienko, head of Russia’s federal atomic energy agency, according to Ria Novosti.

A Russian official said on Thursday that nuclear contaminants left from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster more than 20 years ago could be released into the atmosphere by the fires. “In the event of a fire there, radionuclides could rise together with combustion particles, resulting in a new pollution zone,” the official, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, said on state television.

More than 3,000 people have been left homeless because of the fires, the government said on Thursday. Mr. Medvedev has declared a state of emergency in 7 regions, while another 28 regions have declared an emergency for farmers whose crops are failing in a severe drought.

Firefighters from various European nations and former Soviet republics were arriving in Russia to help battle the blazes. Officials were preparing a shelter in the country’s Kaliningrad enclave between Poland and Lithuania to house 150 children from central Russia, the government said.

Solving a problem with forest fires, both the President, and the Prime Minister “has forgotten” about the State Forest protection

The President has charged to the Government to accelerate preparation of recommendations to re-equip of bodies of fire brigades of the Ministry of Emergency Situations – Emercom. Till next Monday the Emercom together with the Ministry of Finance should verify necessary documents, volumes including financial assets, quantity of additional regular number and to submit for approval.

However solving a problem of forest fires, both the President, and the Prime minister “has for some reason forgotten” about the state Forest Protection Services that is what their direct responcibility to provide fire-fighting in woods.

After accepting of the new Forest Code and liquidation of Forest Districts (Leskhozez) and the aerial forest Fire Center “Avialesookhrana” as uniformed structure any drought season can become catastrophic. “It is necessary to recognize that divisions of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, most likely, are not ready to suppression of forest fires in great volume as do not possess neither corresponding techniques, nor monitoring means, knowledge”, – in 2008 scientists of Institute of applied mathematics of a name of Keldysh warned in the report. These predictions of the future accident have been based on the statistics of forest fires of 2006-2007, and also on comparison with possibilities of national system of suppression of natural fires in Canada.

The experienced and unique organization – “Avialesookhrana” that was checked up by decades appears out of a field of attention of the top management of the country, and Forest Protection Services is actually destroyed as a result of branch reforming, – the Head of Internet portal considers-Vladimir Zaharov, the  coordinator of Forest campaign of the International socially-ecological union . At the same time Government supported the ideas of the Ministry of Emergency Situations on creation of own system of suppression of the forest fires based on absolutely false initial parcels: space monitoring plus expensive means for aerial fire fighting, such as heavy planes-tankers Be-200, Il-76. Instead of early detection of fires and their fast suppression Russia can receive in tens, and even hundreds times heavy expenses of means and catastrophic consequences with which then heroically to manage catastrophic fires.

“It is necessary to support those directions of fire management which can give the maximum effect, instead of on what “ask money more loudly”. And if to speak about allocation of budgetary funds, it is necessary to provide it not in an emergency mode, but on the basis of the overall performance analysis”, – Vladimir Zaharov adds.
Source: First Forestry Portal, 6 August 2010 –

For more details on fire in the Russian Federation:

Bibliography on fire in ecosystems of boreal Eurasia:
One of the results of the first international fire science conference in the Russian Federation (1993) was the publication of a monograph on fire in boreal Eurasia, including some selected contributions on boreal North America. The literature cited in the monograph contains numerous publications which in many cases are not easily accessible. To facilitate literature search the bibliographical sources are provided by topic (chapter).
Goldammer, J.G. and V.V.Furyaev. 1996. Fire in Ecosystems of Boreal Eurasia. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 390 p.

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