A Year After Massive Fires, Is Russia Burning Again?

A Year After Massive Fires, Is Russia Burning Again?

26 July 2011

published by www.worldcrunch.com

Russia — Greenpeace disputes the Russian government’s forest fire statistics in the region around Moscow. The controversy is especially charged following last summer’s blazes that decimated agriculture and killed hundreds when huge plumes of smoke blew into the capital.

All the fires raging around the Moscow region have been extinguished, and all new blazes that spring up are put out as soon as they are discovered. That, at least, is the view of the Russian government’s Emergencies Situations Ministry and the Federal Fire Service.

But environmentalists insist many fires are still flaring up that the authorities are hiding, including blazes that continue to rage in the Vladimir and Ryazan regions adjacent to Moscow. And very soon, the activists say, a smoky smog will envelop the capital as it did last summer.

Last August, hundreds of deaths were blamed on respiratory failure linked to the smoke from the worst Russian wild fires in memory, also responsible for the widespread destruction of crops that cost some $15 billion in damages.

As August approaches, attention to the severity of wild fires – which tend to occur each summer – is higher than ever. The Emergency Situations Ministry told deputy prime minister Viktor Zubkov that in a recent 24-hour period, there had been 12 forest and peat fires, but they had all been quickly extinguished.

But Greenpeace Russia says the situation is not quite so rosy. The head of its fire information service Gregory Kuksin said in the area surrounding Moscow, there were at least ten large fires, mostly in the Shatura region. Some of the fires have been raging for weeks.

Kuksin said on the whole, local authorities are reacting swiftly, but real information is for some reason being hushed up. He added that many of the forest fires are burning along the boundary of the Moscow region.

A Greenpeace Russia team arrived Tuesday morning to put out a peat bog fire in a town in the Vladimir region. The wind was blowing the smoke towards Moscow.

Active fires on the rise

On Monday, residents in the southeast of the capital reported that they could smell smoke, but Russia’s meteorological service insisted this was not due to burning peat.

Across the rest of Russia, however, the situation is worrying. The Emergency Situations Ministry says the number of active fires has increased by 20 percent over the last 24 hours, from 167 to 206, affecting an area of 11 thousand hectares.

The worst affected areas are the regions of Yakutia, Komi, Khabarovsk and Archengelsk. Zubkov has demanded firefighting equipment be more quickly deployed to the outlying regions, pointing out that $100 million had been set aside for this after last year’s disaster.

But the deputy prime minister also added that it was still necessary to find and punish those responsible for violating the norms in effect to prevent the tinderbox conditions of dry land and brush that tends to ignite the fires. Reports into administrative violations have been compiled and investigators are looking into more than 400 cases.

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