The first peak of the fire season has passed in Russia: the fire, according to Greenpeace, destroyed almost 3 million hectares – this is not only forests, but also steppes and farmland. The next peak is traditionally more difficult and more serious in terms of consequences; it is usually corrected in late summer. At the same time, the current political situation in Russia is not conducive to extinguishing fires, experts are convinced. The Vot Tak correspondent understood who and how would extinguish the Russian forest when the fire of war broke out.
In mid-April, residents of several cities in the Novosibirsk and Omsk regions, in the Krasnoyarsk and Khabarovsk regions, observed the first smoke from the fires. In Omsk, it was so dense that the authorities repeatedly announced a “black sky” regime, which warned people of the danger and forced factories to temporarily reduce emissions.
“At this time the agricultural burning of the grass begins. And when the grass burns, the smoke is dense, it is a lot, but it leaves quickly. Both forest fires and peat emit a very long smoke. This is a big difference. And now we have complaints from residents of Omsk, Novosibirsk, Tyumen about tobacco. But a large number of deaths were avoided, the settlements were not affected, they were tolerated. And people with a range of diseases really suffer a lot from smoking. And smoke can travel huge distances – 1000 kilometers.He says.
On April 30, it was reported that in the village of Gmiryanka, Krasnoyarsk Territory, a pensioner died in a fire caused by falling grass – a gas cylinder exploded in her house and caught fire. In addition, three more private houses were burned. According to police, the dry grass near the village was set on fire by the locals themselves.
Greenpeace notes that the area of fires in 2022 is already doubled since April last year. In the territory of 30 Russian regions, due to the alarming situation, a special fire regime has been introduced, which provides for the prohibition of the visit of the inhabitants to the forests and the entry of equipment in them.
However, official figures differ from those given by environmentalists: while Greenpeace reports 3 million hectares of scorched earth, the latest Avialesookhrana monitoring says the fires have covered only 110,000 hectares since the beginning of the year. Worst of all, according to the authorities, is the situation in the Amur region and the Primorsky Territory – these two regions represent about 60% of the total area covered by the fire.
“I did not close the window at night – I woke up with a headache”
Even temporary, non-persistent smoke can seriously affect people’s lives – because of fires, some people start to have health problems.
“We already had smoke in Khabarovsk in April. I did not pay attention and did not close the window for the night – I woke up with a headache, I had to urgently close everything, to ventilate with air conditioning. But that does not always help. After all, you have to go somewhere and the attention is scattered, it is impossible to concentrate on work.– says in an interview with Vot Tak correspondent, a woman Khabarovsk Olga.
The peculiarity of the Khabarovsk Territory is that smoke is often attributed to neighboring China: when we talk about forest fires, many locals say that “they burn there, beyond the Amur”. However, they themselves acknowledge that the authorities are reluctant to respond to emergency reports.
“Once we went by bicycle to the neighboring Jewish Autonomous Region. And as soon as we entered the neighboring area, we look – fire, near the road. He called the fire department and said. In the Khabarovsk region we were told then that this was not their territory, they would not go. The JAO has also decided that because it is closer to Khabarovsk, it will not send firefighters. As for me, not everyone just cares. “adds Olga.
Fires that can not be extinguished
According to Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), about 50% of forests in Russia are classified as control zones: if a fire breaks out there, the decision to extinguish it is based on economic expediency – officials must determine whether fire threatens settlements and infrastructure. If, in their opinion, it does not threaten, then it is not necessary to extinguish.
In practice, about 95% of decisions about such fires in control zones are made simply “without extinguishing”. There are virtually no new solutions in this area this year. Yes, these zones began to shrink a little: earlier, the lands of some settlements and the inconceivable forests entered them.– says the WWF Forest Coordinator Konstantin Kobyakov.
“Sometimes you still have to put out such a ‘non-liquid’ fire,” he adds Gregory Cuxin.
“There were cases where the fire was in the control zone, but it was not extinguished. And inside that, inside, there was a settlement. Is not it financially viable? And instead of sending a plane, throwing firefighters there and starting to put it out immediately, they had to send teams into a dangerous environment, heavy smoke. They stayed there long enough to recapture the settlement. But the fire itself, if it has already spread hundreds of kilometers, can not extinguish any force in the world.– says Kuksin.
Ecologists can not yet make an accurate prediction of the future summer peak of the fires. There are several problems that the authorities have not yet managed to solve.
“The risk of fire itself is difficult to predict. There are now many dangerous natural phenomena: droughts, climate change, heat waves, high temperatures. More and more fires are appearing in the northern latitudes. Therefore, the risk of fire increases unpredictably., – explains Konstantin Kobyakov. – We do not know if what happened last year will be repeated in Yakutia or if it will be some other area. Last year in Karelia it burned 10 times more than usual. Now the regions of Novosibirsk and Omsk have suffered, but no one could say what would happen there. So it’s unlikely this year will be better than last year.“.
A difficult fire season is also expected in Greenpeace. As Kuksin noted, each last year is consistently worse than the last.
“2021 was a record year. This year there were also winter fires in Primorye, peat burned. Yes, people started burning less grass and burning logs. This partly allowed us to cross the first peak calmly. But the prognosis is bad due to the refusal to extinguish the fire in the control zones. And if time is wasted, we will smoke again in the cities. Indeed, more money was spent this year, but due to financial processes it was simply devalued. “Technology is not entering the industry, there are no other people and the season will be as difficult as the previous one.”– says Kuksin.
WWF also notes the increase in funding for forest fire protection, but also adds that this will not change the situation radically.
“We see the fire when it should have been extinguished”
Despite the announced increase in funding, the volunteer fire brigade and the clubs saw no extra money, the coordinator of the Western Siberian Voluntary Ecological Fire Brigade said in Vot Tak. Alexander Sukhov. According to him, the group is not without equipment, but must be transported to the scene of the fire, so the volunteer group plans to announce a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a fire truck.
Sukhov explains that now the participants pay most of the group’s expenses out of their own pockets: they went in, refueled and went to put out the fire. In addition, after the start of the war with Ukraine, several environmental organizations that in the past partially supported volunteer firefighters stopped working in the area. The suspension of activities was associated with risks due to foreign funding.
“Sponsors have always been missing and now we have many more environmental communities that have suspended their activities due to events in Ukraine. Someone does not support [войну], others had funding from abroad. “But we do not intend to stop the work.”says Sukhov.
According to him, the summer in Novosibirsk is relatively calm in terms of fires. “Now the team is busy looking for and training new volunteers,” says Sukhov. Sometimes, when there is no work in the Novosibirsk region, volunteers go to locations in other regions.
“Now we go mainly to specially protected areas, to hot spots (places with a significant increase in temperature. – Ed.) In peat bogs. Now the forest is wet, the fire does not catch well. We all have volunteers: who has a job, who has a job. There are only 20 active people, but we try to go out twice a week. “says Sukhov.
Volunteer firefighters are far from being present in every region of Russia; it is almost impossible to find volunteers in the sparsely populated northern regions. According to environmentalists, fires in the north of the country often simply have no one to put out.
Almost all the northern lands are included in the so-called control zone: the area monitoring works there, with the help of which the occurrence of fires is recorded.
“Imagine, a satellite flew, noticed a fire and only then did we see it on the map. Several hours delay: that is, we will see it already at the moment when it had to be turned off. For large fires, this is not a bad thing – you can understand how it develops. But for control, no. The space itself will not put out the fire. And the fact that there is not enough population in the north to put out the fires is a yes. But it is enough to light fires. Thunderstorms have become more common, but nevertheless, most of the fires so far are due to human error.explains Kuksin.
According to experts, it would be possible to reduce the risks by creating capable forestry and agriculture systems. To do this, they explain to Greenpeace, they do not even need large expenses: as long as the practice of burning grass and clearing forest cuttings from logging residues is stopped – the latter takes place on legal plots. “It’s good not to burn more than last year”– note to the WWF.
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