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Russia’s wildfires could limit firefighting response. The Daily Beast | Environment | All topics from climate change to conservation | DW

Russia’s wildfires could limit firefighting response. The Daily Beast | Environment | All topics from climate change to conservation | DW

Employees of the Russian Emergencies Ministry fight a fire in a residential area in the town of Uyar in Russia's Krasnoyarsk Territory, standing amid ruins

In recent weeks, fires broke out in Russia’s vast forests of steppes and steppes. Fires are also raging in several areas in southwestern Siberia. Local authorities have reported that at most 10 people have died in recent days after several villages were destroyed by the flames.

The Siberian TimesThe English-language newspaper DW has been posting videos on Twitter showing dramatic scenes from the fires since mid-April. The videos have not been independently verified by DW.

Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed regional officials Tuesday to get the forest firesThey were under control and posed a threat for life, the environment, and the economy.

“We cannot allow another year of the same situation last year, Forest fires were among the most destructive and lasting of recent years.,” he said, in comments broadcast on state TV. In 2021, a record-breaking 18.8 million hectares (72,600 square miles) of forest, steppe and peatland were burned, according to Greenpeace Russia an area roughly the size of Syria.

Boreal forest fires peatland is a “climate bomb,” said the environmental group. Because carbon-rich peat is rich in organic matter, the emissions from each square meter that a peat fire produces are “many to many times higher than those from the most intense forest fires.”

Around half of the world’s carbon that is stored in peatland lies along the Arctic Circle, including Siberia that’s billions of tons. Peat fires are especially difficult to extinguish. 

War and sanctions could hinder response

The Russian Federal Forestry Agency said in a press conference in April that it was always on high alert and ready for deployment of drones, helicopters, and other equipment. In previous years Russian troops have been also sent inTo help extinguish the flames.

But the Russian army and its resources are strained to a large extent Fighting in UkraineAnalysts have suggested that the firefighting response this year might not be sufficient.

Thomas Smith, associate professor of environmental geography at London School of Economics, stated in an email that “it’s inevitable that war is going to detract the firefighting effort.” He has been using satellite imagery for monitoring recent fires.

Max Bergmann from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said that Russia had probably still got the manpower needed to fight forest fires. He pointed out, however, that the ongoing conflict and international sanctions are likely to strain other resources including the budget as well as logistics.

He said that Russia could face challenges with export controls and sanctions if it wants to maintain some of its helicopters and other advanced military gear. Parts are generally sourced from overseas.

With the few parts that do make their way into the country, he stated that the challenge will be deciding whether to prioritize maintaining and fixing the firefighting fleet or those used against Ukraine. []One of the “guns versus butter” questions that Putin will have to answer going forward.

Employees of the Russian Emergencies Ministry fight a fire in a residential area in the town of Uyar in Russia's Krasnoyarsk Territory, standing amid ruins

Fires in recent weeks have destroyed entire communities, including Uyar in the Krasnoyarsk area.

Wildfires are more common and more destructive.

Russia’s Emergencies Ministry reported that approximately 4,000 forest fires, covering around 270,000 hectares (around 1,040 sq miles), have been reported to Russia since early this year. The majority have been concentrated in a few regions, including Krasnoyarsk (Kemerovo), Kurgan, Omsk, and Tyumen.

Wildfires are part of Siberia’s natural cycle, which is characterized by lightning and spontaneous combustion. But Climate change is making the world warmer and drier.This can increase the fire danger. Siberia, which is known for its long, icy Arctic Winters, is warming twice as fast than the global average. It only gets worse as the ice caps recede, and the darker open water absorbs less of the sun’s rays.

“It’s too premature to tell if these early fires will ever go out.” [in the south]”They are an indicator of what may occur further north later in a season,” Smith of the London School of Economics said. He also added that weather systems and other conditions will all be a factor. “It’s important that you note, however, that extreme fire season are becoming more likely because of climate change in Arctic. This means that in the event the weather is favorable, the fire seasons could be more destructive than average.”

Smith stated that the Siberia fires would be a problem even if Russia’s troops were not busy elsewhere. “It has been evident in recent years that Siberia’s fires have been beyond Russia’s firefighting capabilities, even in peacetime,” Smith said. He also noted that many remote fires are left to burn. He did warn that there was a possibility of “greater socioeconomic damages” this year due to reduced civil protection.

An aerial view of a wildfire in the Razdolnaya River valley, as a truck drives through smoke

Peat fires can burn for months and release up to 100 times as much carbon as a burning tree.

Russia is unlikely to be the next. Do not divert your attention from Ukraine to firefighting anytime soonBergmann suggested that it is possible for another devastating fire season to force the Kremlin into reevaluating its priorities.

Bergmann stated that Putin is trying to balance two competing goals. “One is his geopolitical goal in Ukraine, the other is domestic stability. He will prioritize fighting fires if it is crucial to the survival and stability of his regime.”

Greenpeace Russia is calling for longer term solutions to stop forest fires from raging to this extent in the first place, such as implementing sustainable forestry practices and increasing funding for fire protection. 

Edited by: Jennifer Collins

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