Siberia and Russian Far East are caught in fire

Dramatic social media messages from villagers – ‘Forests are burning!’, ‘Nothing to breathe in Bagdarin village!’, ‘Turka village is on fire!’

Warming weather has unleashed a wave of forest fires, with the Republic of Buryatia, and regions TransBaikal and Amur badly hit. In one day alone 10,000 hectares of forest in the Russian Far East was burned down, with dozens of homes lost.

The scale was less than in Canada’s dramatic fires, but is a reminder of the grave threat annually facing many Russian regions. Head of the Federal Forestry Agency Ivan Valentik blames people for much of the carnage.

‘99% of all fires in the Amur region, the Trans-Baikal region and Buryatia are caused by people who set fire to grass,’ he said. He warned that the tradition of burning dried grass ahead of the sowing season – popular since Soviet times – is now against the law.

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In Amur region 11 houses were destroyed by fire and 50 people evacuated in Zarechnaya Sloboda village. Pictures: Amurskaya Pravda, Port Amur

‘It is now necessary to take all measures to tighten control over compliance with the ban on the burning of dry grass,’ he said. ‘People need to know that by burning grass they violate the law.’

Criminal cases will be brought against those who burn grass, he said.

In Amur region 11 houses were destroyed by fire and 50 people evacuated in Zarechnaya Sloboda village. Some 200 homes were saved by emergency teams. Other houses were lost near Progress and Malinovka villages.

On May 10 the situation worsened because of strong winds – up to 20 metres per second, igniting homes in a matter of minutes, with 27 people left homeless.

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On May 10 the situation worsened because of strong winds – up to 20 metres per second, igniting homes in a matter of minutes, with 27 people left homeless. Pictures: Port Amur

In Buryatia the area of wildfires increased in 1.5 times to 11 May with some 18,800 hectares  burning. At one point, fires threatened the republic’s capital Ulan-Ude. In TransBaikal region some 11,000 hectares were aflame.

During the long May holidays holidays, fire came close to Buryatia settlements 14 times, and the area of wildfires increased 10 times. Local residents posted pictures in social media with comments such as:

‘Forests are burning! Nothing to breath in Bagdarin village!’, ‘Turk village is on fire!’, ‘In Ilyinka village forest is burning. In just 3-4 hours the entire village was in smoke!’

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In Buryatia the area of wildfires increased in 1.5 times to 11 May with some 18,800 hectares  burning. Pictures: Vkontakte

The federal highway Baikal in some places is covered in smoke because of burning peat bogs.

Nearly 1,200 people are involved in firefighting in Buryatia, including paratroopers of the Federal Reserve and aviation forest protection teams. 250 pieces of heavy and firefighting equipment are involved, including aircraft An-2, Mi-2 and Mi-8.

In TransBaikal region 951 firefighters are deployed, including 202 paratroopers  from Chita air base and 73 paratroopers from Avia Forest Security. In Amur region 732 people are involved in firefighting.

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