Massive uncontrolled forest fires are affecting large parts of Eastern Russia, including the island of Sakhalin. The national authorities are blaming the blazes on unusually dry weather conditions. These large-scale fires are devastating the eastern Russian territory.
According to the Russian Ministry of Emergencies, 181 fires have been recorded in the Far East Region, covering almost 500,000 hectares. Several populated areas have been swallowed up by the fires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and necessitated massive evacuations.
The situation is especially severe on the sparsely populated island of Sakhalin. It is feared that more than 100,000 people might have to be evacuated to the mainland if the fires continue unchecked. In one village, 136 houses have been burned down making 249 families (683 persons) homeless. A number of other settlements are threatened by fires. At least three people have died in the fires that have raged for more than a week on the island.
Most recent satellite imagery clearly shows that the number of fires have increased in Russia since last week. A close view from NOAA/AVHRR-14 demonstrates the large area affected by the fires. The area covered by smoke, as recorded by NASA/TOMS, is much larger than a week ago and the blaze continues to spread. According to the regional forestry authorities, the neighbouring mainland region of Khabarovsk has already seen around 1.2 million hectares of forest burned.
The Russian authorities are trying to minimize the impact of this disaster. The affected population is being evacuated, and provided with temporary shelter and food.
The Sakhalin Emergency Commission is implementing an action plan aimed at stabilizing the situation. They have committed to the relief effort 289 staff, 89 units of fire-fighting equipment, a fire-fighting train and 2 water-bombing aircraft IL-76 of the Russian Ministry of Emergencies. Dozens of volunteers have joined the firefighters.
The fires are most fierce in mountainous, remote zones that are difficult to reach. Dense smoke is frustrating the fire-fighting operation.
Locals have been forbidden to go near forest areas that have been declared to be under a state of emergency, and local police have been ordered to patrol the forests’ major points of entry.
A collection of charitable donations for victims left homeless by the fires has been organized by the region’s Social Protection Fund.
The Government of the Russian Federation is taking steps to provide assistance to the Administration of the Far East Region in coping with the fire disaster.
Initial reports from the region suggest that the lack of aviation fuel and fire-fighting equipment is severely hampering efforts to extinguish the fires. Food for the fire-fighters is also in short supply.
OCHA Disaster Response Branch (DRB), through its Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit, is closely monitoring the situation and staying in contact with the Russian Ministry of Emergencies and other competent national authorities.
OCHA, in close cooperation with UNEP, is initiating the necessary steps to help ensure an appropriate international response to the environmental emergency in the Russian Federation.
A United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC) is being urgently dispatched to Russia. The Team is led by OCHA, and comprises a representative from UNEP. This Team is tasked, in particular, with assessment of the impact of the fires in situ, evaluation of needs for complementary international assistance, and preparation of relevant recommendations to the international community.
Donors wishing to channel their contributions through OCHA – Geneva can transfer funds to OCHA account no. CO.590.160.1 at the UBS AG (former Swiss Bank Corporation) Case Postale 2770, CH-1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland, with reference: Russia – Fires.
For coordination purposes, donors are requested to inform OCHA Geneva, as indicated below, of bilateral relief missions/pledges/contributions and their corresponding values by item.
This situation report and further information on ongoing emergencies are also available on the OCHA Internet Website at: http://www.reliefweb.int
Telephone number: +41-22-917-1234 In case of emergency only: +41-22-917-2010 Desk Officers: Mr. Vladimir Sakharov, Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit, OCHA/Disaster Response Branch, Direct tel: +41-22-917-1142, Mr. Sergio Piazzi, Europe Desk, OCHA/Disaster Response Branch, Direct tel: +41-22-917.35.18 Press to contact: Ms. Elena Ponomareva, direct tel: +41-22-917-2336 Telex: 41 42 42 dha ch Fax: +41-22-917-0023 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org