Europe Day on May 5, which celebrated “peace and unity” across the continent, has been tragically blurred by the Russia-Ukraine conflict – 40,000 soldiers and half as many civilians killed, and forest and farming lands scorched obliterated for many years by bombs and explosions.
Now Russia is fighting a new foe – gigantic forest wildfires are burning across Siberia on a record scale larger than all the fires raging this summer worldwide.
Several people have been killed and more than 300 homes destroyed, and states of emergency are declared across the region.
The governors of the Tyumen and Kurgan regions issued back-to-back emergency declarations on Sunday as residents were evacuated and efforts to contain the fast-moving flames proved unsuccessful.
Russia’s forest management authority said 154 forest fires in 18 mostly Siberian and Far East regions had engulfed 93,300 ha of land.
It noted that 176 forest fires had been extinguished in 26 regions the previous day.
Greenpeace, however, said the fires had not diminished in size and that they covered 4.3 million ha and were releasing nearly as much carbon dioxide into the air as emitted by 36 million cars in a year.
The problem has been exacerbated by a lack of resources for firefighting combined with the remote locations of many fires.
Russia’s military has been deployed to help combat the spreading of wildfires.
The minister of emergency situations Alexander Kurenkov travelled to the Kurgan region 1600 km east of Moscow. He said nine of the 13 active fires there were under control. An unusual heatwave with temperatures of up to 30°C and strong winds helped spread the flames.
Nearly 1300 people were deployed to the Kurgan region to fight the fires. Dozens of forest fires also struck the neighbouring region of Sverdlovsk, spreading over up to 54,000 hectares, according to officials.
But 53 more fires are still blazing, they said.
Wildfires are expected in late spring and summer across Russia’s vast forests and grassy steppes, but some recent blazes have fanned suspicions of “negligence”.
Investigative authorities in Kurgan have begun a criminal inquiry.
“The spread of the fire became possible due to potential negligence on the part of responsible officials,” they said in a statement.
The authorities will support those affected by the wildfires, Kurenkov said after briefing President Vladimir Putin, adding that they no longer threaten regional settlements.
Massive fires have also engulfed the regions of Sverdlovsk and the Tyumen region in the Urals to the north of Kurgan.
Authorities managed by late Sunday to contain a gunpowder depot fire that had forced the evacuation of a small village in the Sverdlovsk region.
- Using extracts from ABC International