GFMC: Forest Fires in the Russian Federation

Forest Fires  in the Russian Federation  

13 August 2010


Latest MODIS scenes: will be published as soon as available.

 MODIS Terra, 13 August. 500m resolution scene.    Moscow region, 13 August 2010, 500m resolution.
Source: MODIS

 

 

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.

 

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Map legend

Administrative boundaries

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

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Overview

click to enlarge (40-50 KB) click to enlarge (40-50 KB) click to enlarge (40-50 KB) click to enlarge (40-50 KB) click to enlarge (40-50 KB) click to enlarge (40-50 KB)   click to enlarge (40-50 KB) click to enlarge (40-50 KB) Moscow Region click to enlarge (40-50 KB) click to enlarge (40-50 KB)   Vladimir Region   click to enlarge (40-50 KB)     Nizhni Novgorod Region

More maps of other regions are available on request: info@gfmc.org 

 

According to the latest satellite-derived analysis provided by the Sukachev Institute for Forest (Krasnoyarsk) the total area burned per Region by 13 August:

  • Moscow Region: 43 718 ha

  • Vladimir Region: 94 950 ha

  • Nizhni Novgorod Region: 300 047  ha

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 12 August:


Source: Sukachev Institute for Forest, Krasnoyarsk

 

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

10 August, 2010
According  to  the wildfire situation report of 10 August 2010 a total of
578  fires affected 11,933 ha forested and  17,266 ha non-forested lands.
114 fires of them were reported as new fires.
An except 167 fires were put out the same day they have been discovered.

Through all of Russia 14,476 people, 56 aircraft, 2,598 bulldozers, tractors and engines have
been involved in fire fighting.

Since  the  beginning  of  the 2010 fire season a total of 26,400 fires
affected 754,987 ha forested and 239,637 ha non-forested lands of the Forest Fund of Russia.

Most fires have been reported in the following regions:
Sverdlovsk region – 76
Kirovsk region – 51
Moscow region – 16
Komi republic – 86
Perm region – 49

There are large fires in following regions:
Ivanovo region – 6 fires,burning area 17,325 ha forested landsand and 2,218 ha non-forested lands.
Vladivir region – 6 fires,burning area 1,680 ha forested lands.
Ryazan region – 15 fires,burning area 90,499 ha forested lands and 6,620 ha non-forested lands.
Mari el republic – 9 fires,burning area 16,641 ha forested lands and 480 ha non-forested lands.
Sverdlovsk region – 15 fires,burning area 18,096 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:
https://gfmc.online/fwf/eurasia1.htm

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

 

News from the media, 12 August:

 

Forest forum of Greenpeace compared data from GFMC site with official statistic MCHAES Russia about wildfire situation and concluded that the difference in 19 times

Данные Всемирного центра мониторинга пожаров о площади пожаров в России расходятся с данными МЧС в 19 раз
13/08/2010 – 33 просмотра

По данным Всемирного центра мониторинга пожаров (Global Fire Monitoring Center, Германия), площадь, пройденная пожарами на природных территориях России с начала 2010 года по 13 августа, составила 15 688 855 гектаров. В качестве первичного источника информации указывается Институт леса имени Сукачева (Красноярск). Приводятся также данные по ряду регионов, в наибольшей степени пострадавших от пожаров. Согласно данным Всемирного центра мониторинга пожаров, в Московской области пожарами на природных территориях с начала года пройдено 43 718 гектаров, во Владимирской области – 94 950 гектаров, в Нижегородской области – 300 047 гектаров.

Ссылка: Forest Fires in the Russian Federation, 13 August 2010.

Для сравнения. Согласно сводке МЧС на 13.08.2010, “всего с начала пожароопасного периода 2010 г. на территории Российской Федерации возникло 26 977 очагов природных пожаров на общей площади 832 215,6 га”.

Ссылка: Сводка МЧС РФ на 13.08.2010.

Таким образом, данные Всемирного центра мониторинга пожаров о площади пожаров на природных территориях России расходятся с данными МЧС РФ примерно в девятнадцать раз.

Примечательно, что с середины дня 13 августа 2010 года Федеральное агентство лесного хозяйства закрыло доступ граждан к своим сводкам о лесопожарной обстановке в России. Таким образом, официальная статистика Рослесхоза о лесных пожарах больше не является общедоступной, что прямо нарушает статью 42 Конституции Российской Федерации, в соответствии с которой каждый имеет право на достоверную информацию о состоянии окружающей среды.

Как бы то ни было, до сегодняшнего дня данные Рослесхоза о пройденной пожарами площади примерно совпадали с данными МЧС, т.е. также почти в два десятка раз расходились с данными Всемирного центра мониторинга пожаров.

Отчасти разница в данных объясняется тем, что МЧС значительную часть пожаров на природных территориях классифицирует как “загорания” и не учитывает в своей официальной статистике. Но в целом почти двадцатикратная разница между данными одной из наиболее авторитетных международных организаций и данными МЧС РФ о площади пожаров на природных территориях заставляет задуматься – а действительно ли МЧС в курсе происходящего в нашей стране, и можно ли хоть в какой-то степени доверять выдаваемой этим министерством информации.

Собственно, у работников лесных и природоохранных организаций ответ на последний вопрос давно есть, но хотелось бы, чтобы этот же вопрос начали задавать себе руководители страны, журналисты и остальные граждане.

Источник: Лесной форум Гринпис России, 13.08.2010
 

 

Situation with forest fires on the territory of the Russian Federation according to the information received at 06:00 Moscow time 13 August 2010Situation with forest fires on the territory of the Russian Federation according to the information received at 06:00 Moscow time 13 August 2010

Situation according to the information received at 06:00 Moscow time 13 August 2010

245 islands of fires appeared during the day. 302 islands of fire were put out. 505 islands of fire continue to be active on the total area of 64 420.2 ha. (yesterday there were 562 islands of fire on the total are of 81 015.07 ha). 346 of them were put out on the area of 32 885.3 ha including 69 big islands of fire on the area of 54 953.9 ha, including 37 islands of peat fires.

In total 26 977 islands of natural fires appeared on the territory of the Russian Federation since the beginning of the fire hazardous period 2010 on the total area of 832 215.6 ha, including 1108 peat fires on the total area of 1 920.1 ha.

165 714 people and 26 542 items of equipment (44 aircrafts), including 129 171 people and 19 341 items of equipment (23 aircrafts) EMERCOM of Russia were engaged in the fire extinguishing operation.

551 people and 100 items of equipment, including 13 aircrafts (6 planes and 7 helicopters) were engaged in the fire extinguishing operation from the foreign states. Source: Government of the Russian Federation

 

U.S. Response to Fires in Russia

Office of the Spokesman Department of State USA
Washington, DC
August 13, 2010

The U.S. Government has worked with the Government of Russia (GoR) to outline a comprehensive U.S. response to the severe, ongoing forest fires in the Russian Federation. The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Defense are working to provide the following technical equipment and humanitarian relief:

U.S. Government Response:

  • The U.S. is shipping technical equipment valued at $2.5 million to the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Russian Federal Forestry Agency Airborne Forest Protection Service including personal protective equipment, fire-protective clothing, large water storage tanks, hand tools for firefighters, and other general purpose fire-fighting tools. Total overall U.S. support for this effort is estimated to be valued at $4.5 million.

  • Two C-130 aircraft from U.S. EUCOM and a charter flight from California are scheduled to arrive in Moscow after 6:00 p.m. local time on Friday, August 13.

  • Two additional C-130 flights are scheduled to arrive tomorrow, August 14.

  • A second charter aircraft is expected to arrive in Moscow on or before Tuesday, August 17.

  • On August 12th, the U.S. Government and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) signed a grant for $50,000 to support the relief operations of the Russian Red Cross in Russia. Relief items include blankets, bedding, and food parcels for approximately 1600 victims.

  • State of California Response: The State of California is coordinating with USAID/OFDA to deliver fire resistant clothing, which was identified as a key need by the Federal Forestry Agency Aerial Fire Service.
    Public Donation Information:

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow is posting regular updates on the fires and has a link to a live webcam so the public can see the atmospheric conditions first hand. USAID/OFDA has also activated the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI) to coordinate donations from individuals and organizations. For more information, visitwww.cidi.org or call (703) 276-1914

 

Fresh blazes near Russian radioactive site

Moscow (dpa) – Fresh blazes have broken out near the city of Sarov, east of Moscow, bringing the total of wildfires to 582 across the former Soviet republic, Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry said Friday.

Savrov, 400 kilometres east of the capital, is the site of a government research facility containing radioactive materials. On Thursday officials had declared all fires burning near Sarov extinguished.

Meanwhile, firefighters in Russia struggled to control blazes on Friday despite the deployment of tens of thousands of Russian and foreign emergency workers, officials said.

A nationwide estimate made public by the Ministry on said fires covered a total of 81,000 hectares.

More than 2,500 firemen supported by heavy equipment were working to control the new outbreaks, Viatcheslav Kormilitsyn, a regional ministry of civil defence spokesman, told the Itar-Tass newsagency.

But firefighters appeared to be making some slow progress against the blazes, with 245 new fires registered on Thursday, against 302 extinguished, according to the ministry.

The total area burning has declined by 15,000 hectares. A total of 69 of the blazes were rated major fires, and 39 were hard-to-extinguish peat bog fires, officials said.

The Russian capital on Friday saw a long-awaited cooling trend, with hard overnight rains in some locations and clear morning skies free of smoke-induced smog.

Air temperatures, however, hovered in the mid-30s Celsius, well above seasonal averages, and meteorologists were warning fumes from peat fires outside Moscow could return to the city with a wind change.

The scale of forest and peat bog fires affecting Russia in July and August has been unprecedented, spread across thousands of kilometres of the country’s west. They have severely taxed the giant nation’sfirefighting capacity.

Limited numbers of firefighting planes and helicopters – critically needed because of their ability to travel to widely spaced fires – were available for the drop of water and chemicals on blazes.

Russia can put into the air only 23 of its own aircraft, and foreign countries are contributing another 13, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry.

US President Barack Obama, in a Thursday telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, offered US equipment if needed to help fight the fires.

The Kremlin had made no response public by Friday morning, Russia’s Regnum news agency reported. Source: www.monstersandcritics.com

 

Fears rise over fires in Chornobyl forests

Fears rise over fires in Chornobyl forests
A worker drives a bulldozer (top) after a wildfire is extinguished in Kyiv Oblast on Aug. 9.The fourth reactor of the closed Chornobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the 1986 disaster, is shown at right in a 2008 file photo. (UNIAN)

As fires burn across Ukraine amid a heat wave, international and local experts have warned of the high risk of a wildfire in the highly radioactive 30-kilometer radius around the closed nuclear power plant.

As fires burn across Ukraine amid a heat wave, international and local experts have warned of the high risk of a wildfire in the highly radioactive 30-kilometer radius around the closed Chornobyl nuclear power plant.

A combination of heat, wind, drought and poor forest management could help spread such a fire in the no-man’s-land “exclusion zone” near the 1986 disaster, which remains the world’s worst nuclear power accident. Wildfires there would release radioactivity in smoke clouds.

The scientific consensus seems to be that the particles would not be of sufficient quantity to seriously endanger people’s health, except perhaps for those closest to the blaze.
 
“There is an extraordinary situation in terms of wildfire risk in the Chornobyl exclusion zone.”

– Professor Johannes Goldammer, head of the Global Fire Monitoring Center in Freiburg, Germany.
Although, as with most Chornobyl-related assessments, nobody knows for sure what the fallout would be.

“There is an extraordinary situation in terms of wildfire risk in the Chornobyl exclusion zone,” said Professor Johannes Goldammer, head of the Global Fire Monitoring Center in Freiburg, Germany.

“The danger results from the lack of any forest management in the decades following the accident. Forest has been growing up without any clearance of dead wood. And there are large stretches where insect infestation has created dying forest that could easily burn.

The whole exclusion zone is at risk of fire.” Goldammer, whose institute is the leading European research center on forest fires, said that “repeated meetings” with Ukrainian officials in recent years have not led to a clear policy “to reduce the risk of fire in the zone.”

Lack of money, he said, shouldn’t be an issue as international groups would be willing to provide emergency grants.

Serhiy Vus, head of the department for the Chornobyl exclusion zone at Kyiv Regional State Administration, said on Aug. 6 that there was “a normal and stable situation” in the Chornobyl zone, with two fires reported in early August that were quickly contained.

Experts say the harm caused by the radioactive fallout from a large forest fire in the Chornobyl zone would be limited.
 


“Our conservative model shows that the radionuclides released in the smoke would remain below critical level and would not pose a risk to the population”.

Professor Johannes Goldammer, head of the Global Fire Monitoring Center in Freiburg, Germany.

“Our conservative model shows that the radionuclides released in the smoke would remain below critical level and would not pose a risk to the population,” Goldammer said.
“But it would not surprise me that if it turned out to be higher in the case of an extreme fire. The most dangerous aspect would probably result from radioactivity entering the food chain.” Serhiy Zibtsev, professor at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences in Kyiv, had an encouraging assessment.

“The amount would not exceed the critical threshold of danger to the population,” Zibtsev said.

However, localized danger could be serious.

Experts at the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection on Aug. 6 said: “Fires in the Chornobyl area can have radiological effects in the immediately surrounding area if people inhale the radioactive particles in the air. The level of the resulting radiation exposure depends on the fire and on the individual behavior of these people and cannot be generalized. However, the fires do not have any radiological consequence for the rest of Europe and Germany, since the dispersion of the radioactive substances is regionally limited. This has been known from former fires in the area.”

The German experts noted that there had been no sign of increased radiation as a result of the wildfires in Russia.

Zibtsev, the Ukrainian professor, said a large-scale fire “could be a catastrophe” in a remote area, if the wind is strong, because of a lack of modern firefighting equipment.

“And remember, once a forest fire reaches 50 hectares, there is no real way of stopping it before it burns out,” he said. While the zone has its own dedicated firefighters, detection of fires remains weak.

Emergency Ministry officials admitted on Aug. 10 that the few inhabitants in the “exclusion zone” impede their ability to spot fires quickly.

“There needs to be automatic detection, including towers with cameras and remote sensors,” Goldammer said. While the health dangers to the general population may not be high, risks could be more serious to firefighters and other workers in the zone who would battle such a blaze. Oleksandr Klyuchnikov, president of Ukrainian Nuclear Society, who has worked at the Chornobyl reactor since the accident in 1986, said weather conditions would determine whether the smoke was carried to Kyiv.

Klyuchnikov noted that radioactivity in the zone has already increased lately, due to more dust created by the extreme heat. Goldammer said Ukraine is on the right track in restricting access to forests and raising public awareness of the issue and the need for responsible behavior.

“All the fires in western Russia were caused by humans,” he said, “ranging from shashlyk fires and dropped cigarettes to farmers burning the stubble off fields.

The lack of people in the exclusion zone therefore reduces fire risk. But we all know that people live in the zone, and also enter the zone especially to hunt and, of course, there is also work going on there. So there should be no complacency on this account.”Source: Kiev Post
 

 

 

 

Fire Emerges Again Outside Russian Atomic Complex

Flames yesterday ignited again in the vicinity of a Russian nuclear site, forcing Moscow to reconsider its decision to redeploy hundreds of emergency response personnel who extinguished earlier fires, Agence France-Presse reported

(Aug. 12) – Volunteer firefighters are trucked toward a wildfire yesterday about 30 miles outside Sarov, Russia. Flames yesterday broke out for a second time near Sarov, the home of a major Russian nuclear research center (Viktor Drachev/Getty Images).

“A new fire has broken out, caused by lightning which hit a pine tree,” the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in Sarov indicated in released remarks.

“The center’s director Valentin Kostioukov has asked the [Russian Emergency Ministry] urgently to suspend the withdrawal of troops from Sarov and send in heavy equipment as reinforcements,” the release states.

“We began the withdrawal of some of the troops, but nature had a surprise in store for us in the form of a fire to the east, which is why we have to review our decisions,” Kostioukov said, according to Interfax (Agence France-Presse I/Spacewar.com, Aug. 11).

A fire response train and 70 emergency workers were in route to coordinate with 3,400 firefighters working around Sarov, according to an Emergency Ministry spokesman (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, Aug. 12). One such train, equipped with high-power hoses and a large water supply, was already at the scene (Anna Smolchenko, Agence France-Presse III/Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 12).

Wildfires have raged in an adjacent reserve area for about one week, but the flames have so far not breached the nuclear center’s grounds.

“Two planes and two helicopters are currently circling over Sarov,” Emergency Ministry Volga region branch spokesman Mikhail Turkov said. “Reconnaissance is being constantly conducted from the air” (Agence France-Presse II).

Firefighters working in the region say they need more help to beat back the flames, AFP reported.

“We have no control (over the fires), now all we can do is get ourselves killed,” Vasily Filin said. He and other firefighters in the area did not have any protective gear.

“There is nothing we can do. We need helicopters or planes to put out the fire,” he said (Agence France-Presse IV/Spacewar.com, Aug. 12).

Meanwhile, emergency responders were combating another fire in a five-acre peat bog nearly 40 miles from Chernobyl (AFP II).

Flames could kick up cesium, strontium and other radioactive materials left by the Chernobyl disaster, environmentalists told the Associated Press.

Such material creates “a higher threat of cancers and future mutations, especially for children, embryos, if a woman is pregnant,” said Bryansk State University environmental specialist Anton Korsakov.

Rafael Arutyunyan, who heads the Institute for Safe Development of Nuclear Energy in Moscow, played down the threat posed by radioactive material around Chernobyl. Radiation levels would remain far lower than standard background amounts, he said (Mansur Mirovalev, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, Aug. 11).

Valery Dyadyuchenko, deputy head of the Russian state weather service Rosgidromet, expressed a similar view, AFP reported.

“We have a full network of monitoring and we carry out frequent observations,” he told Interfax. “A worsening of the radiation situation and a growth in the background radiation as a result of a transfer of materials from the fires have not been recorded anywhere in Russia” Source: www.globalsecuritynewswire.org

 

Medvedev says Russia’s fire situation ‘still tense’ The number and extent of forest fires in Russia’s central European provinces showed signs of abating for the first time in weeks, but the situation was ‘still tense’, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday.

Vladimir Stepanov, head of Russia’s national crisis centre, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the number of fires and the area of burning land had both fallen in the past 24 hours.

Medvedev Thursday cancelled a fire-related state of emergency in three of seven Russian provinces, including greater Moscow.

Fires in forested regions of Russia’s Bryansk province, a region affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power accident, have caused no increased radiation in the environment, and blazes in contaminated districts would be extinguished in a day, Stepanov said.

Across Russia, about 560 more fires in forests and peat bogs were burning Thursday, covering a total area of some 80,000 hectares – 10,000 hectares less than Wednesday, he said.

About 60 of the blazes had been designated ‘large fires’ requiring extra effort to control.

Though government firefighting efforts appeared to be gaining ground, ‘the situation is still tense’, Medvedev said.

The wave of peat and forest blazes which started in late July in Russia’s western provinces represent the worst fires ever in the former Soviet republic. Damage to Russia’s economy caused by the blazes could exceed $30 billion.

Reports of fires not fully under control emerged Thursday, with a blaze in Russia’s central Ural region forcing the evacuation of villagers.

A village in Nizhny Novgorod, some 400 km east of Moscow, was on fire Thursday, but no injuries were reported.

Moscow, shrouded for most of the last week in thick smog from nearby forest fires, was breathing easier, with much of the smog dissipated and the number of fires near the capital a third lower than Wednesday.

Emergency response and military units began flooding peat bogs around Moscow Thursday, in an attempt to block the spread of fires in outlying rural districts to built-up regions.

Medvedev, called for increased fire protection for strategically important government facilities, and for the national prosecutor’s office to crack down on fire-related profiteering.

Fire, continuing drought, and record-breaking temperatures since July have devastated Russia’s grain fields and caused a 20-percent spike in the retail prices of bread, flour, and other basic food products, according to media reports.

For the first time since the early 1990s, Russia this year will become a net grain importer, with an expected harvest of some 60 million tonnes as compared to 97 million in 2009, according to industry estimates.

Russia’s annual grain consumption is around 70 million tonnes, according to government data.

Weather predictions for western Russia, the heart of the country’s agricultural sector, were pessimistic Thursday, with meteorologists warning of continued hot and dry conditions, high danger of fires and no rain in sight. Source: http://sify.com

 

Russia’s Medvedev cancels fire emergency in 3 regions

TAGANROG, Russia (Reuters) – President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday cancelled a state of emergency in three out of seven Russian regions affected by forest fires.

“The state of emergency has been cancelled in Voronezh and Vladimir regions and the republic of Mari El,” Medvedev’s spokeswoman Natalia Timakova told reporters in Taganrog, a town in the rural Rostov region, 1,200 km (745 miles) south of Moscow. She said the situation in the regions had improved significantly.

Russia’s worst heatwave since records began has set ablaze thousands of hectares (acres) of forest, killing 54 people and leaving thousands homeless. The Kremlin declared a state of emergency in seven regions on August 2.

Smouldering underground fires in dried-out peat bogs blanketed Moscow in smoke for much of last week, causing mortality rates to soar. Strong winds this week cleared the smoke, at least temporarily.

Environmentalists have expressed fears the fires could release radioactive pollution from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster into the atmosphere as contaminated woodland in the Bryansk region southwest of Moscow goes up in smoke.

“The laboratories … are continuing to monitor the situation in the areas contaminated during the Chernobyl disaster,” Vladimir Stepanov, head of the crisis management centre at the Emergencies Ministry, said in a statement posted on its website.

“I would like to note that there has been no overshooting of radiation levels (above normal limits).”

Bryansk, which borders Ukraine, was among the regions worst affected by the Chernobyl disaster, the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster, which dumped radioactive dust across Ukraine, western Russia and Belarus.

A statement from Russia’s forest protection agency said fires covering an area of 39 square km had been registered in radiation-polluted regions. The deputy head of the agency said on Wednesday most of the fires had been extinguished.

The overall area of Russia’s forest fires decreased by 100 square km on Thursday from 927 square km a day ago, the Emergencies Ministry statement said. More than 50,000 people were putting the fires out.

Weather forecasts for the next four to five days may favour the eruption of new fires but temperatures will cool gradually from August 17, Roman Vilfand, head of the state hydrometeorological service told a news conference on Thursday. Source: Reuters

 

Into the inferno

The wildfires devastating central Russia provide the prime minister with an opportunity to show how much he cares

DURING the Kursk submarine disaster of August 2000, Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s president and now its prime minister, went jet-skiing as crew-members slowly died in their stricken vessel. Television, at that time still partially free of state interference, lashed out at the Kremlin’s cover-ups and Mr Putin’s callousness. While the Kremlin is no more interested in transparency today than it was ten years ago, Mr Putin appears to have learned his lesson. The forest fires raging across central Russia have given him a chance to harness for his own ends the anger that many Russians feel about their government, and so shore up his sliding popularity.

In recent years the prime minister has advertised himself riding bare-chested on a horse, descending to the bottom of Lake Baykal in a mini-submarine, soaring in fighter jets and kicking up dust on a Harley-Davidson. Now he has more photo-opportunities. On August 10th Mr Putin got behind the controls of a plane dropping 12 tonnes of water on two fires. “Was that a hit?” Mr Putin asks from a co-pilot’s seat. “A direct hit!” a voice affirms.

A day earlier, Mr Putin’s own co-pilot, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, had remarked that it was tasteless to make political capital out of people’s grief. His comments were addressed to the Kremlin’s opponents rather than to his mentor, but Mr Putin’s stunt made them sound ambiguous. Throughout the crisis, which has killed at least 53 people and devastated vast swathes of land, Mr Putin has appeared in his element, charging around the burned-out countryside promising compensation to villagers, banning the export of wheat and issuing instructions over the phone to the office-bound Mr Medvedev from among groves of silver birch trees.

As Muscovites choked in toxic smog and morgues struggled to cope with a doubling of the death rate, Russia’s president attempted to redirect public anger towards local officials, long stripped of independent power by the Kremlin. Natural disasters, Mr Medvedev said, cannot be blamed on the government. Mr Putin went further, comparing the wildfires to an invasion by mystical foreign “dog-knights”.

Russia suffers from peat-bog fires every year. But this year they have occurred in the densely populated centre of the country, which has experienced its hottest summer in centuries. Although soaring temperatures clearly played their part in aggravating the fires, so did a number of human factors. A recent forestry law effectively disposed of dedicated forest guards; the dire state of Russian roads often makes it impossible for firefighters to reach burning villages; much firefighting equipment is in an appalling state. And then there is the corruption that converts the government’s modest spending on fire safety into luxury cars for some fire-inspection chiefs.

Censored on television, public anger found its way online, in the form of YouTube clips and blog posts. But Mr Putin’s publicity machine managed to co-opt even this, when the prime minister personally responded to one expletive-loaded post. A blogger described the plight of his village, 100 miles from Moscow: “We had three ponds, a fire alarm and even a fire engine under the nut-case Communists. Then the democrats came… the ponds got drained and sold for plots, the fire engines disappeared (probably got nicked by Martians) and the alarm got swapped for a telephone (fucking modernisation), only it did not work because they did not plug it in…. Why the fuck do we need some innovation centre… if we don’t even have fire engines? …Give me my alarm back and take away your fucking telephone.”

In a handwritten reply, Mr Putin praised the writer’s style and promised him a fire alarm. By siding with this mystery (some suspect planted) blogger, Mr Putin appealed to the disgruntled, foul-mouthed section of the electorate, rubbished Mr Medvedev’s talk of modernisation and turned the serious issue of government competence into a joke. But local officials took him at his word. Instead of fighting fires, they spent the next few days looking for the blogger to give him his alarm.

Mr Putin’s stunts will help him retain his image, in the eyes of many, as Russia’s supreme leader. They may even help him retake the presidency in 2012 when Mr Medvedev’s term expires. But there is one thing they cannot do: make Russia safer and better governed. Source: www.economist.com

 

Moscow ‘hiding heatstroke cases’ after death rate jumpsA woman cools herself in a fountain on Moscow's Poklonnaya Hill, 12 AugustPeople in Moscow were enjoying clean air on Thursday

Doctors in Moscow are being told not to diagnose heatstroke as a cause of death after a jump in the mortality rate during the heatwave, Russia media say.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one doctor said the unofficial instruction being passed down was to use diagnoses that “sound less frightening”.

A photo shows a note pinned up in a casualty area which reads “Attention! Do not diagnose heatstroke”.

While wildfires continue to burn, temperatures are starting to drop.

The emergencies ministry reported that as of Thursday morning 66 major fires continued to burn across Russia, 40 of them in peat bogs, which are notoriously difficult to extinguish.

While wildfires continued to burn up to 100km (60 miles) away from the site of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine, experts said there was little danger of serious radioactive contamination.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the fires had destroyed a quarter of the agricultural land where cereals are grown.

Speaking in southern Russia at a meeting on stabilising the grain market, he said rises in the price of foodstuffs must be avoided. Russia has already suspended exports of wheat.

‘Off the scale’

The number of people said to have been killed by the fires directly stands at 54 after two security personnel died fighting flames near the Sarov nuclear research centre in Nizhny Novgorod.

A firefighter battles flames outside Shatura, a town 110km (68 miles) south-east of Moscow, 12 August  Nearly 70 major wildfires were still burning on Thursday

But little has been revealed officially about the number of people who succumbed to temperatures approaching 40C (104F) and choking smog from the fires.

National mortality figures for the summer have not been reported and when the city of Moscow revealed on Monday that its daily death rate had more than doubled, the federal government swiftly challenged the figures.

A nationwide opinion poll published on Thursday suggested that 75% of Russians believed the main effect of the heatwave had been to exacerbate health problems and push up the mortality rate.

“We have indeed been instructed to stop diagnosing heatstroke,” a doctor told Interfax news agency.

“We were told that the figures for heatstroke in Moscow had gone off the scale.”

Another doctor explained to the agency that there had been no formal ban: “Everything is done by word of mouth.

“Even though the heatwave is now abating, the informal instruction is in force until 1 September.”

Moscow’s healthcare department was not available for comment, Interfax added.

Russia’s LifeNews website, which published the photo of the note, was similarly unable to get a response.

‘Breathing again’

Upper temperatures in Moscow are forecast to fall just below 30C at the weekend, though this is still well above the August average of 22C.

The sky above the city was clear of smog on Thursday thanks to favourable winds and some success in fighting the wildfires.

“I can finally open the balcony door to let my cat warm in the sun,” said economics student Yevgenia Lavrova, 21, told the Associated Press news agency.

“You walk in a street, feel a light breeze and want to breathe again.”

How peat bog fires spread How peat bog fires spread

  1. Peat is formed from decayed vegetation in bogs, moors or swamps.
  2. Deliberate drainage or drought can expose peat to air.
  3. Peat can then be ignited by wildfires or spontaneously combust. The air flow allows the peat to continue burning.
  4. Once alight, the smouldering fire spreads slowly through the peat and can cause the ground above to collapse

Source: BBC

 

 

 

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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