Russia Lets Scores of Fires in Siberia Burn



Russia is used to damaging wildfires. A Greenpeace study found that 4.7 billion trees in Russia were lost to fire last year, seven times the number planted. And this year is worse. The blazes burning now in Siberia are larger than all other wildfires around the world combined, the Washington Post reports. That includes fires in the US, Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Canada, per Live Science. The count:

  • 69 fires are being allowed to burn, because they’re too tough to fight or are out of the reach of towns and infrastructure.
  • 190 wildfires in Siberia are being fought and have closed roads and airports and prompted evacuations.
  • 8,600 crews, including soldiers, are battling the fires, and local authorities are asking for more.
  • 62,300 square miles have been lost to the fires this year, by Greenpeace’s count, which could turn out to be the worst on record, passing 2012.
  • $81 million is the current firefighting budget, which a minister wants raised to nearly $190 million.

Concern has developed slowly. “Officials just lie about the scale of it,” a Greenpeace official said, because bad news is unwelcome among government bosses. They still try that, but with satellite images widely available, he said, “it’s no longer possible to hide the fire.” The Yakutia region’s boss blamed climate change last week. “We are living through the hottest, driest summer in the history of meteorological measurements since the end of the 19th century,” he told state media. Conspiracy theories are pervasive, too, with rumors spreading that government or business officials set fires to hide illegal logging. That’s made things worse, a forest official said. “When people are sure that the forest is burned down by criminal intent, they don’t think to exercise caution themselves,” he said. “And now ordinary people are coming to the forests and leaving unextinguished fires there.” On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin did order more firefighters and aircraft to Yakutia. (Read more Siberia stories.)