New chilled weather improves situation with wildfires

New chilled weather improves situation with wildfires

22 August 2010

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Russia — Russia on 17 August said it has halved the area of its worst forest and peat-bog fires in the country’s history as a record heat wave finally relented and new weather brought torrential rains and winds.

Wildfires have directly killed at least 54 people and left thousands homeless.

The heat and smog from blazing forests and shouldering peat bogs has caused the premature deaths of thousands more.

Moscow’s mortality rate doubled to 700 a day.

The heat wave triggered a nationwide crisis and destroyed a quarter of the country’s crops.

Russian officials were quoted as saying by the press that the danger from a fire raging in a nature reserve close to Russia’s biggest nuclear research centre had ebbed and troops who had been brought in to fight the blaze would be withdrawn.

Temperatures in Moscow, which edged 40 degrees Celsius two weeks ago, were back down in the mid-20s.

The emergencies ministry said in a statement that the area ablaze in peat or forest fires nationwide had been cut to 22,700 hectares from 45,800 a day earlier.

At the peak of the crisis, almost 200,000 hectares of land were on fire.

The situation with the wildfires has improved considerably, it said.

Officials said the situation around Russia’s main nuclear research centre in the town of Sarov had also eased, with a forest fire nearby no longer posing a threat to the facility.

The situation has stabilized, there is no threat to the perimeter of the nuclear centre, said the head of the Volga region for the emergencies ministry, Igor Panshin.

In connection with the stabilizing situation, from Tuesday (17 August) we are planning a gradual withdrawal of the deployment by the ministry of defense, Interfax quoted him as saying.

The fire, in the district of the village of Popovka, 17 kilometers (10 miles) southeast of Sarov, had extended to 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) over the past days.

Sarov is still closed to foreigners, as in Soviet times.

Almost 100,000 people in 1,500 towns and villages in northwest Russia were left without electricity the day before after a storm ripped through the region.

Officials said on 17 August that supplies were 90% restored.

Despite cooler temperatures and occasional rain showers, forecasters’ warnings that the capital was also at risk of being hit by a storm were not fulfilled.

Forecasters said the poor air quality was due to smoke from remaining wildfires in the outlying regions drifting over Moscow and would improve as the weather changes over the next days.

Moscow had in recent days been blanketed in acrid smog from the wildfires which raised alarm for the health of its residents.

Peat-bog fires, some on Moscow’s outskirts, have been particularly resistant to firefighters’ efforts, with blazes moving underground.

The fires have also highligted Russia’s lack of modernization – shortages of equipment such as fire engines, delays in transporting apparatus over Russia’s dreadful roads, and failures of coordination.

Meanwhile, a forest ecologist said it could take as long as 300 years for the forests scorched by wildfires in central Russia to recover fully.

Alexander Isayev, an ecologist at Moscow’s Center for Forest Ecology and Productivity, said it would take about 15 years for birch trees and other early species to cover the scorched areas.

It may be 300 years, however, before the forests recover completely, RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.

The fires also destroyed a quarter of the country’s crops.

The cost to Russia of crop losses due to fire and drought has been estimated at $30 billion, an amount roughly equivalent to 10% of the Russian national budget.

Russian Prime Minster Putin said on 9 August that Russia’s projected production in 2010 will be between 60-65 million tons and that compares with 97 million tons in 2009.

The domestic market needs 77-78 million tons.

The country has a reported 21.

7 million tons in storage, of which 9.

5 million is classed as intervention stocks.

These are stocks that can be allocated by the federal government to regions where needed without the use of an auction.

So, if the current forecasts prove accurate, then Russia should just about have enough grain in storage to cover the domestic market for one year, Chris Weafer, chief strategist with Moscow’s Uralsib bank, wrote in a note to investors on 10 August.

The problem is that the situation may worsen and total wheat production could easily be a lot worse.

In which event, Russia would need to import wheat from its neighbors.

Also, because there is no guarantee that there may not be a repeat of the drought in 2011, Russia does not want to run down stored grains in one year and be totally exposed next year.

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