Planes dump water on Siberian forest fires as locals call for help

MOSCOW, July 13 – The Russian military on Tuesday dispatched firefighting planes to fight massive forest fires that blanketed Siberian towns in thick smoke as residents complained of being suffocated in a fire. region known for its frozen tundra which is now suffocating in the heatwave.

With flames ripping through some 800,000 hectares of Russian forest, Yakutia’s hardest-hit region in the north has been in a state of emergency for weeks as climatologists sound the alarm bells over the potential impact to long term.

Meanwhile, fires in Russia’s central Chelyabinsk region killed a man last week and destroyed dozens of village houses.

“We are suffocating, our lungs are poisoned by the acrid smoke,” read one of two online petitions from residents of Yakutia to President Vladimir Putin. They require more equipment and strength to fight fires.

Russia has seen its annual fire season become fiercer in recent years, as climate change has brought unusually high temperatures to the tundra of northern Siberia.

Police cars and locals are seen near houses set on fire by a forest fire in the Dzhabyk settlement in the Chelyabinsk region of Russia on July 11, 2021.
Reuters / Alexey Malgavko

This year, temperatures have already reached new records.

“The risk of fire has seriously increased in practically the whole country because of the abnormal heatwave,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting on Tuesday. “The most difficult situation is in Yakutia.”

As of Tuesday, more than 2,600 firefighters were battling fires in Yakutia, which has been hardest hit by massive forest fires in recent years.

Putin ordered the Defense Ministry to help local authorities, while the military deployed several Ilyushin Il-76 planes to extinguish the flames from the sky, Shoigu said, without specifying exactly how many planes were sent.

The Siberian fires have raised fears of thawing permafrost and peatlands, releasing carbon long stored in the frozen tundra.

Firefighters work to put out a forest fire in the Yakutia region of eastern Siberia, Russia, in this image released on July 12, 2021.
Firefighters work to put out a forest fire in the Yakutia region of eastern Siberia, Russia, in this image released on July 12, 2021.
Reuters

Meanwhile, ash from fires could cover the nearby snow cover, making it dark so that it absorbs more solar radiation and heats up even faster.

In 2019 and 2020, the forest fires in Yakutia led to the release of record amounts of greenhouse gases in the region, according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), which is part of an observation program of the ‘European Union.

In the past six weeks alone, fires in the region have spewed out about 150 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, close to Venezuela’s annual fossil fuel emissions in 2017, said Mark Parrington, senior scientist at CAMS.

“We are still putting the information together to try to understand what this means for the climate,” he said.

“This year we haven’t seen so many fires in the Arctic Circle in this region yet, but over the last 3-4 days we’ve started to see a number of hot spots and a lot of smoke.” , Parrington said.

Heat wave

A dog smiles as local residents check a yard burnt by a forest fire in the settlement of Dzhabyk in the Chelyabinsk region of Russia on July 11, 2021.
A dog smiles as local residents check a burnt-out yard in a forest fire in the settlement of Dzhabyk in the Chelyabinsk region of Russia on July 11, 2021.
Reuters / Alexey Malgavko

As fires rage through forests, the country battled a heat wave that broke several temperature records in western Russia. Moscow roasted at 33.1 degrees Celsius, its hottest June 13 in 85 years.

In Siberia, the city of Yakutsk reached 35 ° C at one point; the city in the Verkhoyansk region – considered one of the coldest places on the planet – has experienced temperatures above 30 ° C, the state weather forecasting agency said.

“The temperature is really high, 8 to 10 degrees higher than the norm. It’s really unusual for the temperature to go over 30 degrees north, ”the agency’s scientific director, Roman Vilfand, told a briefing.

He said the temperature is expected to drop over the next 7-8 days with increased rains, factors that should slightly reduce the risk of new fires, although they do not prevent existing fires from spreading.

Similar conditions in parts of Canada and the US Pacific Northwest have also led to wildfires.

“These fires will continue to occur with climate change,” said Andrey Shegolev, head of the forestry program office at WWF Russia, who called for more funding for local firefighting efforts. “The question in this situation is, what to do?

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