Russia Pro-Kremlin eco-groups echo Greenpeace concerns by highlighting burning of forests which do not appear in government reports.
For weeks there have been reports of major fires burning in remote districts but unregistered by the authorities. Hard evidence was lacking but now it has been produced by two pro-Kremlin groups which made a joint mission to check out the claims.
These pictures show the fires in Irkutsk region, with one claim that locals have been subjected to smoke fumes for as long as six months from blazes that officially were not burning.
Latest satellite images confirm the fires, as the image here shows.
Alexander Yakubovsky, head of the local All-Russian People’s Front, set up by President Vladimir Putin, said: ‘We are now in Ust-Kut. Smoke is very strong, visibility is no more than 300 metres.
‘From the air we see that the taiga is burning over an area that is measured in hundreds, thousands of hectares. And in official reports the picture is quite different. The data is clearly underestimated. We are trying to film everything we see on camera.’
In a evocative despatch on 22 September, he wrote: ‘This is called the edge of the fire … no end of it in sight … we have examined Kirensky, Katangsky and Ust-Kutsky districts, forests are burning, and we have not seen any piece of equipment, not a single person who would put out the fire.’
His group ‘recorded more than two dozens foci’ of the wildfires. ‘Air traffic and navigation on the Lena Rover is intermittent, sometimes visibility is very low, the last flights were banned today.’
The head of Living Forest group, Nikolai Nikolaev, claimed the Irkutsk authorities have incorrectly interpreted the order of the Ministry of Natural Resources, which allows the regional commission for emergency situations and fire safety to make decisions about not extinguishing fires.
Living Forest is a group organised by United Russia, which comfortably won this month’s parliamentary elections in Russia.
‘There are no words in the order that the authorities are allowed not to take into account the more difficult fires,’ he said. Nor should this be used as a reason ‘not to inform the public’ about large-scale fires.
‘The document states that decisions on not extinguishing the fires can be taken if there are no threats to settlements or economic facilities, and in the case when the costs of putting out the fires are higher than the possible harm from them,’ he said.
‘I would like to see those estimates, which would have shown that the costs of firefighting are actually higher than the damage from the fires. It is very difficult to explain to residents of Ust-Kut, who have filled their lungs with carbon dioxide for almost six months, that the authorities failed to extinguish the fires because they do not see any threat to the town.’Additionally, Yakubobsky reported the annual ‘northern delivery’ of vital supplies to remote communities usually by river – notably on the Lena and Angara – has been disrupted by thick smoke from the fires.
Three days ago, officials reported that rains had extinguished many wildfires in the vicinity of Bratsk and Ust-Kut – reported on by The Siberian Times last week – but after the claims of pro-Putin activists, the head of the Emergency Ministry Vladimir Puchkov ordered the reinforcement of firefighters in Eastern Siberia.
He ordered: ‘Make them work. It is necessary to take additional measures to protect settlements, social facilities, infrastructure, (and) power lines. Some heads of districts have relaxed, as they have a good record, but nature does not like such attitude. You need to calculate the risks.’