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Siberian wildfires swell due to inadequate firefighting response — Emergencies Ministry

Forecasts were provided to the Siberian regions but regional authorities have failed to take enough measures to prevent wildfires, the ministry said

MOSCOW, August 1. /TASS/. The forest fire situation in Siberia and the Far East has been deteriorating because regional authorities have failed to take enough measures to combat blazes, Deputy Chief of the Russian Emergencies Ministry’s Disaster Management Center Sergei Abanin told reporters.

"The Emergencies Ministry, the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring and the Federal Forestry Agency provided forecasts to the Siberian regions but regional authorities have failed to take enough measures to prevent wildfires and extinguish them," he said.

According to Abanin, the Disaster Management Center pointed out in the spring that the fire situation in Siberia, the Far East and remote areas of the Urals region could deteriorate. "Wildfires have swelled due to a long period of hot and dry weather and an inadequate firefighting response," the senior Emergencies Ministry official said.

He also noted that the fire situation was difficult in the entire country. Nevertheless, blazes that broke out in Central Russia and the Volga River Valley were extinguished.

Abanin emphasized that no heavy rains were expected in the fire-affected areas that could put wildfires out.

Inadequate response

The Emergencies Ministry official noted that regional governors approved plans to combat forest fires every year in coordination with the Federal Forestry Agency. "After receiving an alarming forecast, regional authorities should thoroughly study it and make a decision. However, they don’t always show responsibility because they hope that everything will be alright and there will be no need to spend additional funds," he said.

"Let me put it straight: local and regional authorities failed to tackle the situation so the federal government was forced to respond to it," Abanin stressed. He specified that under current system, it was municipal authorities’ responsibility to combat fires. If they fail, regional authorities join in and then the federal government. The system covers means for monitoring the situation, including satellite ones, and databases maintained by the Aerial Forest Protection Service and the Emergencies Ministry, that keeps record of fires breaking out near residential areas.

In April 2019, Russian Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev suggested that officials responsible for failures in fighting forest fires should be prosecuted. Preventive measures must be closely monitored and firefighting teams should remain ready at all times, he stressed.

Siberian wildfires

Russia’s Aerial Forest Protection Service said earlier that nearly 2.8 mln hectares of forests were on fire in hard-to-reach areas. The largest wildfires are reported in the Yakutia region where 1.1 mln hectares were burning, the Krasnoyarsk region (over one mln hectares) and the Irkutsk region (about 700,000 hectares). Firefighting activities involve 2,700 people, 390 pieces of ground equipment and 28 aircraft.

An Emergencies Ministry spokesperson told TASS that 804 settlements in the Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk and Yakutia regions were affected by wildfire smoke.

Chief Researcher at the Emergencies Ministry’s Firefighting Research Institute Irek Khasanov said earlier that wildfires active in Russia’s Far East and Siberia could lead to serious consequences for the environment and climate. "When the air is polluted with combustion products during large wildfires, it may have serious environmental and climate consequences," he pointed out.

In 2015, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment issued an ordinance saying that regional authorities have the right to stop firefighting activities if a fire poses no threat to residential areas and economic facilities, and the cost of a firefighting operation exceeds potential damage costs. However, Abanin highlighted the need to put out all wildfires to prevent them from erupting again next year.