Arson To Blame For Some Of Russia’s Forest Fires:Officials

Agence France Presse, May 18, 2002

Vladivostok — Arsonists started some of the forest fires which ravaged the Siberian taiga this month, officials and experts alleged on Saturday.
Viktor Ishayev, governor of the Khabarovsk region where fires are still raging uncontrolled, said local timber producers often light the fires to drive down the forests’ price. In Russia’s Pacific regions, fires generally spread at ground level, burning out bushes and grass but leaving the trees virtually unscathed, Ishayev noted. Even though the trees were unhurt, the fires still resulted in the price of the forests going down.
Ecologists in Russia’s Primorye region in their turn accuse the many gatherers of a local type of fern, who head out into the taiga in search of the precious plant, which they then sell on to China or Japan, of setting the fires.
This type of fern is the first to grow on burnt-out areas, giving an incentive to prospective arsonists, ecologists said.
According to a source in Primorye’s forest protection service, however, forest fires often began in places eyed by local construction companies, who cannot get at choice sites unless the forests there were burnt out.
This year, forest fires have already destroyed over 50,000 hectares (100,000 acres) of forest, sweeping over some 21,000 hectares over the past 24 hours alone despite desperate firefighting efforts.


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