Russia — The fire season is upon us and the peat bogs are smouldering. But while Greenpeace says the problems are pressing and the smoke is already swirling at the gates of Moscow the emergencies ministry promises that everything is under control.
The worst is in Siberia and the far east, but European Russia is also feeling the heat and before the worst has even started noxious gases from peat fires are proving beyond the governments capacity, activists claim.
Fire at the gates
Fires have been reported around Sergeiev Posad, to Moscows north east, gzt.ru reported.
The Moscow region tourist spot saw peat smoke rise from the ground on May 2, in an area covering about 500 hectares and near the villages of Konstantinovo, Yasnikovo and Nikulskoe.
We have found four places where there are fires (around Moscow) and we think there are many more, Alexei Yaroshenko, Greenpeace Russias forest programme head, told The Moscow News.
The government insists that all is in hand and add that Greenpeace should be helping them, As of yesterday operational groups have been looking with all their strength for fires but have not yet found any, Moscow Region press boss Svetlana Antolyeva told RIA Novosti.
She stressed that aerial intelligence has been looking three or four times a day, We cant miss even one incidence of fire, because the aircraft are equipped with thermal imagers, she assured.
But Greenpeace maintain they have caught the government out. The ministry of emergencies said it was a mistake and that Greenpeace was lying [Then] they confirmed that there were two fires in the Vladimir region, but they said they were too small. But they still almost lost control over them. And this is only the peat fires, Yaroshenko said.
And this bodes ill for their future capabilities, We expect a second wave of bigger forest fires next week, he warned.
The Emergencies ministry management is puzzled by Greenpeaces behaviour, says Anatoleva. If they really have uncovered fires then why didnt they tell us first of all, so we could send in specialists? They just put the information on the internet without even bothering to dial 01, she scoffed.
The emergencies ministry uses remote sensors to track fires. But Yaroshenko says that as they have only just started and so are still 10 years behind Greenpeace, who have been using publically available sattelite information rather than the recently acquired specialised ministry technology.
Either way peat fires remain difficult to spot as they can fizzle metres below ground and so give off limited amounts of heat at surface level in the early stages. That is where experts and probability analysis come in to play.
Comedy of errors
Yaroshenko is pessimistic about the chances of repeating last years mistakes this summer.
After the last fires they spent a lot of propaganda to show that they are doing big and important things. But there were some things that should have taken priority, for example the forest guard, which was established on paper but is not in the forest.
They spent a lot of money on heavy equipment which has not yet been produced and not yet spent funds on light, cheap equipment that the people on the ground need. It is one big list of mistakes, he said by telephone.