Monday, May 4, 2020

Siberian Wildfires Already ‘Ten Times Worse’ than Last Year in Part Because of Pandemic, Officials Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 2 – Last year was marked by the worst forest fires in decades in many parts of the Russian Federation, but this year, early in the season,  the situation is already even worse, in some places by a factor of ten, at least in part because Russians, flouting the self-isolation regime, are going into the forests for relaxation and starting fires.

            Emergency Services Minister Yevgeny Zinichev delivered that message to Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials in the course of a video conference this week (

            “In Krasnoyarsk,” he said, “ten times as much territory was burning on April 27 as compared to a year ago. In the Transbaikal, three times as much land has been hit by fires, some 200,000 hectares. And in the Amur region, the number of fires has increased by 50 percent.” Elsewhere the situation is equally dire.

            “The main reason of course is unauthorized and uncontrolled agricultural fires,” Zinichev said. “A less snowy winter, an abnormally warm one, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions” for wild fires to start and then spread over enormous areas threatening population centers.

            The minister called for establishing more serious punishments for those who are caught starting unauthorized fires that lead to “significant damage or even deaths.”

            Sergey Anopriyenko, head of the Russian forestry agency, Rosleskhoz, also participated in the meeting. He said that the coronavirus pandemic was in part to blame. “People self-isolated out of doors” by going far into the woods and simply “forgot about fire safety rules.”  Rising temperatures and the May holidays mean that even more will do the same.

            Putin responded that while the primary focus of government effort is against the coronavirus, “this must not divert our attention from other potential threats to the lives and safety of people,” including the fires and floods which appear every spring and summer.  Already this year, he conceded, these disasters have made the situation “in several regions quite difficult.”

            The Kremlin leader praised the first responders for working “fearlessly and courageously” but criticized officials for failing to do more.  It “isn’t enough to announce decisions,” Putin said. “They must be fully implemented so that they can have a tangible and real impact on people’s lives.”

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