Moscow (TEH) – Environmentalists in Russia warn of severe forest fires in the next few months in the largest country in the world. They fear that a catastrophe like last summer could happen again. “This year the situation is much worse due to the weather conditions,” said fire protection expert Grigori Kuksin from the Greenpeace organization in Russia. “”There was no snow in winter and spring came early.” The first fires had already started in some regions of Russia. In many cases, according to the Ministry of Environment, they were man-made.
In spring, villagers traditionally burn leaves and dry grass. However, it is currently very dry in many regions – and such fires quickly spread to the surrounding area. The forest fire season will probably last longer this year because of the early start, Kuksin told the German Press Agency. In the summer months of 2019, severe fires raged especially in the forests of Siberia. The taiga was also affected. This is an important forest belt for the global climate. Greenpeace estimates that a total of 15 million hectares fell victim to the flames based on state satellite data. That is more than a third of the area of Germany. Toxic smoke was over many villages and towns. People complained of breathing difficulties. Because of the thick smoke, it hardly got light. Residential houses were mostly not directly threatened by the fires because large areas of Siberia are not inhabited.
At the end of 2019, the then Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev had given the affected regions six billion rubles (around 74 million euros) in emergency aid. The money should go to better surveillance and protection of forests. Environmental protection capacities should also be increased, but environmentalist Kuksin is convinced that Russia is not better prepared this time. The government does not provide more money permanently to prevent fires in the future. “There were many promises, but they were not fulfilled,” said the head of the fire protection program at Greenpeace.
Important legislative initiatives have not yet been implemented, according to Greenpeace, depending on the tree species, it can take more than ten years for a forest to recover. Environmentalists estimate that last year alone, around a billion animals such as insects and larger forest dwellers fell victim to the flames. In Siberia, fires in forests and on steppes occur again and again in summer. Last year they were more severe than in previous years due to the drought. According to the Ministry of the Environment, further developments will also depend on whether people now comply with fire safety regulations and how quickly local authorities can identify and extinguish fires.
Russians traditionally light countless bonfires in summer. Some get out of control. Perhaps people are now more careful and would also help fire departments to extinguish more, says Kuksin. “We now hope that our work will change the way people think.” Greenpeace Russia