Medvedev orders no repeat of 2010 wildfire chaos

Medvedev orders no repeat of 2010 wildfire chaos

27 April 2011

Source: Reuters

Russia — President Dmitry Medvedev ordered officials on Wednesday to prevent a repeat of last year’s devastating wildfires, as Greenpeace Russia warned of another catastrophe.

During a record heatwave last summer, Russian authorities struggled to contain peat and forest fires that destroyed a quarter of the country’s crops, killed dozens of people and engulfed Moscow in a cloud of hazardous acrid smoke.

“Consider this a final warning … If you don’t handle it, then you’ll all go to put out the peat fires — both the Moscow region government and the Russian government,” Medvedev told officials.

“Take this as a very important order before this summer,” he added, in televised remarks reflecting Kremlin worries ahead of December parliamentary elections and a March 2012 presidential vote.

Early fires have spread to thousands of acres in southern Siberia and other regions, but the country is even more poorly prepared than it was last year, Greenpeace Russia’s forest programme chief Alexei Yaroshenko said.

“We fear a repeat of last summer because the time has passed when officials could still take preventative steps, and yet the situation is much worse than it was,” he said. If there is a drought, “catastrophe is unavoidable,” he told Reuters.

New fire-fighting equipment will probably be delivered only after the fire season, while legislation aimed at bolstering Russia’s readiness has only complicated the task of forest safety officials, Yaroshenko said.

He blamed the country’s poor state of readiness on the eradication of its forestry agency five years ago under Vladimir Putin, who was then president and is now prime minister.

Since then, financing for firefighters; salaries and prevention has dropped by almost nine times, he said.

Russian emergency officials said earlier this month that they were short of funds and equipment to tackle fires.

While monitoring is in place in Siberia, where over 75 percent of Russia’s wildfires burn, fires are often not discovered for days, the deputy head of the aerial forest fire control service, Andrei Eritsov, said on Wednesday.

The scale of the fires in southern Siberia is several times greater than seasonal norms, in part due to the deforestation and drought last year, Eritsov told a news conference.

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