Putin deploys military to tackle Siberian fires
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the military to help battle Belgium-sized wildfires after record high temperatures.
A state of emergency in four Siberian districts has been declared, with smoke visible from space stretching to the Urals mountains, far to the west.
Smoke has now reached the major cities of Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk.
A state of emergency was declared in the Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk regions, two areas of the Republic of Buryatia and some of the Republic of Sakha.
There has been anger across Siberia after comments by emergencies chiefs that they were not planning to tackle wildfires in remote areas because there was no direct threat to residents.
Today (Wednesday), Putin told the Defence Ministry to deploy forces to tackle the 3-million hectare fire after a meeting with his emergencies minister Yevgeny Zinichev, according to the Kremlin.
Ten aircraft and 10 helicopters with firefighting equipment are reportedly being deployed.
Residents are using social media to demand that the authorities take tougher action.
The authorities have been accused of being too slow to respond, saying any efforts to extinguish the fires would be “pointless”. Activists have been warning that the unprecedented number of wildfires could have grave consequences for human health and the climate.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio has posted on Instagram to raise awareness.
June temperatures in the regions were about 6°C above the average from 1981 to 2010, creating ideal conditions for wildfires when combined with lightning and strong winds.
Greenpeace’s spokesman in Russia, Andrey Allakhverdov, said the fires could be the worst since the authorities eased rules on containing blazes in 2015. It created zones of control in which the government could ignore fires that did not threaten property or lives.
“Due to climate change, we’re seeing a much higher frequency of extreme weather events,” said Oksana Tarasova of the World Meteorological Organisation in Geneva. “We’ve seen longer periods without precipitation and with higher temperatures that create the ideal conditions for these fires.”
Tomsk (pictured), a city around 700km from the centre of the fires, has been covered by smoke for most of the month.
Tarasova said carbon produced was equal to the annual output from a small country while the forests serve as a vital carbon store for the planet.
The fires are approaching Tomsk. Picture credit: Wikimedia