GFMC: Forest Fires in the Russian Federation

Forest Fires in the Russian Federation

19 August 2010

Latest MODIS scenes: 19 August


MODIS Terra, Moscow region, 19 August 2010. 500m resolution.

While wildfires in Moscow region have been cooling down several severe wildfires are occurring around the Urals, near Yekaterinburg. This satellite image of 18 August 2010 shows smoke plumes from fires burning nearby the city. Source: MODIS on Terra, NASA.

Full situation update with FWI information and fire maps will be available again on 20 August.

News from the media:

Deadly Russian heatwave declared over

MOSCOW, Aug 18 (Reuters) – Russian meteorologists said on Wednesday Moscow’s deadly heat wave was ending after two months of searing weather which took a high human and economic toll.

“Today is the last hot day in Moscow,” said Roman Vilfand, head of the meteorological service.

The capital’s temperature will plunge from Wednesday’s 31 degrees Celsius (88 F) to 21-23 (70-73 F) on Thursday, he said.

Muscovites woke up on Wednesday to what seemed like the remains of the acrid smoke from forest and peat bog fires that had blanketed the capital for two weeks.

Rains of varied intensity were expected in almost all regions of European Russia, the Urals, Siberia and the country’s Far East though to the weekend, Roshydromet said on its website.

Officials broke the silence over the effects of the heat and smoke on Aug. 9, when the head of Moscow’s health department, Andrei Seltsovsky, said deaths had doubled to 700 per day and heat was the main cause.

The heat wave and drought are also estimated to have destroyed a quarter of Russia’s grain crop and could shave $14 billion off this year’s gross domestic product.

Though smoke still lingered in the air, chances of harmful effects were much lower than the toxic peak in early August, the city’s pollution monitoring service said.

Amounts of pollution surged to between four and 10 times on Aug. 4, hitting the worst level in eight years.

The Emergencies Ministry said on Wednesday it was considering lifting the state of emergency placed on the Moscow region as well as the Mordovia region, while the Vladimir and Ryazan regions were still on fire, creating smoke.

Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, who cut his holiday short in the face off criticism he was absent from his choke-filled city, resumed his vacation on Wednesday, state-run RIA Novosti news agency quoted a city council source as saying. Source:

Few Chernobyl Radiation Risks From Russia Fires

Few Chernobyl Radiation Risks From Russia Fires Photo: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov
A firefighter works to extinguish a wildfire outside the settlement of Kustarevka in Ryazan region, some 340 km (211 miles) southeast of Moscow August 10, 2010.
Photo: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov

Fears that fires scorching forests polluted by Chernobyl fallout may propel dangerous amounts of radioactivity into the air are overblown, scientists say, and the actual health risks are very small.

Even firefighters tackling the blazes, which officials say have hit forests in Russia’s Bryansk region tainted by radioactive dust from the 1986 Chernobyl reactor disaster, are unlikely to run any added nuclear contamination risks.

The amount of radiation in smoke would be only a fraction of the original fallout, they say.

“Of the total radioactivity in the area, much less than one percent of it will be remobilized,” said Jim Smith, an expert on Chernobyl and a specialist in Earth and Environmental Sciences at Britain’s University of Portsmouth.

Radioactive contamination in the area has substantially diminished in the almost two and a half decades since explosions at Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 caused the world’s worst civil nuclear disaster on April 26, 1986.

“Most of the radioactivity is in the soil, which will not be affected by the fires, and only a small proportion is in the vegetation,” Smith said in a telephone interview. “And of that only a very small proportion of that will get re-suspended in the smoke from the fires.”

Russia’s forest protection agency said on Wednesday that fires covering an area of 39 square kilometers (15 square miles) had been registered in regions with forests polluted with radiation. The regions affected included Bryansk province, which borders Ukraine, southwest of Moscow.


Both France’s Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety and Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection said on Thursday that while some radiation was likely to be remobilized in smoke, the health risks were minimal and would have no impact on either Russia or neighboring countries.

Maria Neira, the World Health Organization’s director of public health and environment said the WHO had data from controlled burning experiments conducted in the region in recent years and these suggested no reason for concern.

“We know from these experiments that the redistribution and re-suspension of radionuclides (radioactive particles) will be negligible for people’s health,” she told Reuters.

According to experts, the types of radioactive isotopes that might still be active in the Bryansk area include strontium 90 and caesium 137. These substances have half lives of about 30 years, meaning that only about half the radioactive material emitted by Chernobyl is still around now.

France’s Institute for Radiation Protection said there may be a slight increase in radioactivity in the nearby environment due to re-suspension of caesium-137, “but it would be very much lower than the natural radioactivity.”

Portsmouth’s Smith and Stig Husin, an analyst in emergency preparedness at the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, said the main threat from the fires both locally and nationally in Russia was the choking smoke from forest and peat fires, and the smog which is clouding the air in Moscow — all of which can cause lung and heart problems.

“I would be much more concerned about the smog in Moscow and the health impacts of that — not because of radiation but because of people inhaling harmful air pollution,” said Smith.

Husin said those living near the Chernobyl-contaminated areas where fires have been reported would be wise to protect themselves by staying inside or wearing masks.

“Naturally it would be good if you are living close to the fires to protect yourself from the smoke itself. If you do protect yourself then naturally you protect yourself from the radioactive substances that may be in the smoke.” Source:

Russia’s Wildfire Leads to Market Fluctuations

Russia’s decision to halt wheat exports this year has resulted in sharp fluctuations in grain prices in agriculture commodities markets, stirring up fears that another food crisis may be looming.

Wildfires have destroyed a fifth of wheat crops in Russia, the world’s thrid largest wheat exporter, and a record drought in over a century is still threatening the country’s crop harvests.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a report last week on the world’s demand and supply situation, slashed its wheat export forecast for the current year for Russia from 15 million tons to 3 million tons.

Past lessons show that a volatile global supply can spark another round of price speculation, which will be fueled by fears that Ukraine and Kazakhstan will follow Russia’s suit to ban export of their meager grain harvests.


The global wheat market has been volatile, with the prices for futures of September delivery shooting up 8.3 percent to a two-year high of 7.8575 U.S. dollars a bushel on Aug. 5, before falling back to slightly above 6.5 dollars this week on official reassurances about supply.

Analysts said the sharper-than-expected fall in Russia’s wheat production has a major impact on the global commodities market.

“This is because not only Russia is one of the largest exporters of wheat, but also other countries may follow suit to protect their harvests,” said Dong Shuangwei, an analyst at Capital Futures Co., Ltd.

Dong said he expects global food commodity prices to remain high in the near term but unlikely to reach the record level of 2008.

“Supply is not that short. Also absent are factors such as inflation expectations and the demand resulting from biofuel production as a result of surging oil prices,” he said.

The U.S. Agriculture Department revised its U.S. production forecast upward by 49 million bushels (1.3 million tons), although global production was lowered by 15.3 million tons, mostly on reductions for the dry weather-affected former Soviet states and European countries. The report also raised its forecast for U.S. wheat exports by 20 percent to 32.7 million tons.

The ending stocks for the United States, the world’s largest wheat exporter, was 952 million bushels (25.9 million tons), lower than the previous forecast but still the highest in a decade.

It adjusted its forecast for Russia’s wheat production this year downward to 45 million tons from 53 million tons. The world’s total wheat production was forecast to be 646 million tons.


There is no doubt that a shortage of food supply and price inflation worldwide would have dire consequences for the poorest as those countries, including some in Africa which are struggling to feed their populations, are particularly vulnerable.

The grain export ban imposed by Russia will have the biggest impact on its traditional importers like Egypt and the Middle East countries.

Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer, importing 5 million tons a year, and other Middle Eastern countries also rely on imports for most of their grain needs.

It is widely believed that there is no need to panic about food supply, but food security should remain a concern.

“A key lesson of 2008 is that volatile global financial markets can result in food commodities price speculation that has dire consequences for the world’s poorest,” Laurie Garrett, author of a recent report released by the U.S. think tank Council on Foreign Relations, says, citing World Bank estimates that 100 million people had been pushed into subsistence poverty by May 2008 due to food inflation in the first quarter of that year.

Speculation pushed wheat prices to record highs in 2008, and led to an export ban in Southeast Asia and even rice riots in some countries.

“If history is any guide, further episodes of strong price fluctuations cannot be ruled out, nor can future short-lived crises,” the FAO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a report in June.

There are signs that the latest round of food grain inflation is feeding through to food prices in some African countries. The cost of a loaf of bread in Johannesburg jumped 20 percent in just a few days while food producers in the wealthy world locked down flour and wheat futures, Garrett says.

Even before the latest round of food commodity price surges came, millions of people in Chad, Sudan, Niger and Mauritania had already been experiencing a food security crisis, with many facing starvation, said non-governmental organizations Save the Children and Medecins Sans Frontiers.Source:

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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