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'That time Barnaul was undoubtedly the most cultural corner of Siberia. I named it Siberian Athens'
Pyotr Tyan-Shanskiy, 1856

Is there a massive cover-up over the scale of fire carnage in Siberia?

By The Siberian Times reporter
06 August 2012

Ecology groups warn that the extent of fires in forests and taiga has been misreported by up to 159 times compared with satellite evidence of the grim facts.

Wildfires in SIberia, summer 2012. Picture: Greenpeace, Igor Podgorniy

Scientists are fearful, too, over the slaughter of animals as their habitats are ravaged by summer infernos. This comes as the city of Krasnoyarsk was yesterday again choked by smoke from blazes in surrounding areas. 

'Official wildfire statistics, reported even to the highest level, cannot produce more than a smirk from the people of Siberia,' alleged Alexander Bryukhanov, WWF Coordinator for Alta-Sayani Ecological Region.

'People are not living somewhere in isolation, on the Moon. They live right in the middle of this Siberian taiga. And they do not need to be explained that the real figures of fires are higher than those reported to Moscow.'

The latest warnings reflect the caustic analysis of the head of Greenpeace in Russia, Alexei Yaroshenko, who said recently: 'The main method of wildfire suppression continues to be lying.'

Official concern over the fires is, though, indicated by a jump in the manpower deployed fighting the fires in recent days. 

Almost 210,000 people are now involved in fire prevention work in the Urals, Siberia, and the Far East, using some 43,000 appliances, including 84 aircraft, said the Russian Emergencies Ministry. This is 36,000 more people than a day earlier. 

Already this summer, smoke from the fires has blown over the Pacific and affected the west coast of the US and Canada where the fumes have caused vivid sunsets. 

WWF at the weekend issued a statement mirroring the Greenpeace concern that the official statistics on wildfires is understated by at least ten times. In fact there are fears it could be many times more than this.   

wildfires, Siberia


Wildfires, Trans-Baikal region of SIberia, summer 2012. Picture: Alexander Lesnyanskiy

For example, Space data for Novosibirsk region suggested 499,000 hectares of wood covered with fires on 24 July, while aviation and land reports indicated 6,900 hectares. The difference is 72 times. 

In Omsk region, satellite  data showed 407,710 hectares ablaze, while the official statistics on land and aviation reports indicated some 5,450 hectares, a difference of 74 times.

In Kemerovo region, the scale was even larger. Space monitoring showed  145,136 hectares on fire while land and aviation reports put it at 911 hectares, a difference of 159 times. 

'Yet it is the land and aviation data which is reported to the people in Russia as the total figure of wildfires,' complained the WWF.

There are claims from the organisation that the level of aviation monitoring in Russia has sunk during past 20 years, with planes making ten times fewer flights to assess the summer fires while the number of experts has been cut by almost 70%. 

Many natural reserves and parks also say they did not receive new fire fighting equipment for several years.

wildfires, Siberia

Wildfires, Trans-Baikal region of SIberia, summer 2012. Picture: Alexander Lesnyanskiy

Average salaries of forest inspectors is around 10,000 or 12,000 roubles a month. They are the people now risking their lives fighting fires are 'the true patriots of their professions' - but the number of them decreases year by year.

The damage to the animal populations - including rare breeds - is also a toll that may not yet be properly understood. 

Alexander Shishkin, Deputy Director of the Forestry Institute of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science, warned the 'most often to die from fire are  middle-sized animals, like sables, hares, and squirrels. 

'We have got to understand, too, how the ecological conditions change after the fire, and how long for. The population of sables wont restore for some two or three years after the fires. They need grass to grow and mice to come back. For squirrels it will take up to 30 years to form the feeding conditions.'

Among the areas hit are valuable natural reserves in Krasnoyarsk region and Yamal-Nanets region. In the Russian Far East, Yakutia - the Sakha Republic - is the hardest hit with 19 blazes burning. But 'there is no threat to local settlements and economic facilities', said a source.  

Latest reports say there is co-ordinated work by the Emergencies Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Defence Ministry, the Federal Forestry Agency, the Natural Resources Ministry, the Transport Ministry and the forestry departments of regions and municipalities to tackle the fires. 

Criticism of the response of officials was also highlighted by newspaper Kommersant. 

'In Nizhnevartovsk, August 1 was the first day without smog. Although the stench was still felt indoors, the air was fresh outdoors and it was not as hot as a day before. The locals knew back in May that their city would be smothered like Moscow in 2010. 

'That was when the heatwave struck, there was no rain and the water level in rivers went down. The local authorities did their best to prepare for the wildfires but their efforts were in vain: Siberia has been hit by the worst drought in the past 30 years.'

Ksenia Bugrimenko, a local blogger was quoted saying: 'I was in Moscow during the smog, but it lasted only two weeks there. It was six weeks here. And while the Muscovites were enraged that Mayor Yury Luzhkov went on holiday, our town was abandoned by the mayor, the governor and his deputy as well.'

'With only city administration head Alla Badina in charge, she has had to bear the brunt of people's anger. Television is broadcasting warnings to stay indoors and information about air-conditioned shelters set up by the local authorities.' 

'We are giving their addresses on television. But the number of emergency calls has still gone up by 10 percent. All we can do is pray for some rain,' Badina says.

'Yegor Zbrodov, head of the Nizhnevartovsk forestry, has a handbook How One Should Work by Vladimir Lenin on his desk. 

'In the Soviet times they knew how to organize work. Now they don't,' he says. 

'Zbrodov, whose ministry is directly responsible for putting out fires, unlike the revolutionary leader, has become hostage to capital. With the adoption of the new Forest Code firefighters have to look to land leaseholders and beg the federal authorities for help. Neither is too willing to provide it.

'Owners of oil companies agree to supply personnel and equipment only when the fire gets close to their facilities. As a general rule, we send out letters and wait to see if anyone replies. That is completely wrong,' he says.

'Currently, two forest fires are still raging and Zbrodov is trying to obtain a bulldozer from local businesses to bank up the glowing peat fields.

'We lack the infrastructure and well-trained smokejumpers - they have all gone to the private sector, while it is us, not the Emergencies Ministry, that are responsible for dealing with the fires,' he says. He explains that their resources are stretched to the limit even when extinguishing small fires.'

Earlier, on the 'misreporting' issue, Yaroshenko said: 'It is a common thing for our country, that the catastrophic fires away from Moscow are not noticed by the authorities or are noticed with huge delays when it is too late to take any measures.'

He claimed satellite maps showed the true crisis was greater than officials acknowledged. 

'Lies, deliberate hiding or falsification of information about the number, size and danger of forest fires is the main problem of fighting them. 

'For the sake of official statistics, the size of forest fires is cut five to seven times, and in some regions even 100 times. Information about the dangers in the certain area is often postponed one or two days.'

In some regions there was 'censorship' - the 'official explanation is that journalists are often confused when information comes from various sources'.

The consequences are that 'many heads of the regions are not motivated to fight effectively with fires', he claimed.

'The status of the emergency situation is not activated at all, or it is not activated in time, and it leads to non-effective mobilisation of local emergency teams and to problems in communication.'

He claimed federal forces were sent 'days late when it is almost impossible to handle the situation'.

In addition, people in threatened areas were 'not informed about the dangers of fires and of health danger from heavy smoke...and it ends in damage to property and victims'.

Comments (3)

Yes, but who or what is causing them?
Philip, /UK
02/11/2012 19:21
this picture with storks is fab... very National Geographic like
Igor, Moscow
08/08/2012 03:48
3
0
It's as if no-one cares about the animals. I mean thank God no people have been killed in these fires but they had to contend with smog. Animals are being fried alive, or forced to move from their feeding habits, and no-one can do anything.....
Stephanie, Lincoln, UK
06/08/2012 14:47
7
0
1

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