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Oil pipes threatened by forest fires amid disputes over the scale of destruction

By The Siberian Times reporter
20 September 2016

Greenpeace claims up to 300 times more territory in Siberia is ablaze than officially acknowledged.

Social media pictures show the worrying impact of forest fires in remote areas. Picture: Anna Trapeznikova

Officials on Tuesday acknowledged a 20% rise in forest fires in the past 24 hours but campaigning group Greenpeace alleged that state agencies are hugely underestimating the scope of the problem.

It was hard to independently verify the contradictory claims but a fire threat to the Eastern Siberia - Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline led Irkutsk Oil Company to suspend supplies of oil, said the  official representative of Transneft, Igor Demin.

'The situation with the fires in Irkutsk region and the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) remains difficult,' he said. 'There are six wildfires less than in five kilometres from the ESPO facilities. Fires were as close as 300 metres from key pipeline facilities, he said. 

Social media pictures show the worrying impact of forest fires in remote areas. 

Vanavara


Smoke in Vanavara


Smoke in Vanavara Smoke in Vanavara

Residents of the Evenk settlement of Vanavara - 730 kilometres north-east of Krasnoyarsk - complained about the smoke, and breathing problems. Pictures: The Siberian Times, Anna Trapeznikova

Alexey Yaroshenko, head of forest department of Greenpeace Russia, warned: 'The scale of the wildfires in Eastern Siberia can be compared with the catastrophe of 2010 in European Russia and the Urals. 

'Our estimates are approximate. Perhaps more than 1.7 million hectares are burning, since some of the largest fires are completely hidden under strong smoke.

'For the second half of September, such a catastrophe in Siberia is unprecedented. It is associated not only with the inefficiency of the system of protection of forests from fires, but also with the climate change.'

Greenpeace highlighted satellite images to back their claims. 

The group claimed that a summary published by Avialesokhrana - Russia's Aerial Forest Protection Service - on 18 September, shows the wildfires covering an area 300 times smaller than estimated by Greenpeace. 

Map


Wildfires in Irkutsk region


Wildfires in Irkutsk region

'Our estimates are approximate. Perhaps more than 1.7 million hectares are burning, since some of the largest fires are completely hidden under strong smoke. Pictures: fires.ru, Greenpeace Russia

Grigory Kuksin, head of Greenpeace Russia's firefighting programme, said:'Unfortunately, such areas were not completely extinguished before the autumn rains. 

'It was necessary to extinguish the fires at an early stage, when they were relatively small. Now you can just save the settlements and protected areas from the fire.'

The latest official bulletin from the agency highlighted 59 forest fires on Russian territory, covering an area of 3,453 hectares. The three worst-hit regions were all in Siberia. 

A total of 1,900 hectares were said to be ablaze in the Sakha Republic, while fires in Irktusk region, close to Lake Baikal, have also 'surged', according to TASS. Some 42 hectares was on fire in the Pribaikalsky National Park. Around 412 hectares remained ablaze in Buryatia Republic. 

Social media postings highlighted the problems posed by forest fires. Residents of the Evenk settlement of Vanavara - 730 kilometres north-east of Krasnoyarsk - complained about the smoke, and breathing problems.

Wildfires in Krasnoyarsk region


Wildfires in Krasnoyarsk region

'Smoke is all around, we can not see even each other. The school is closed, the children did not go to classes. Head aches, throat discomfort, only water helps.' Pictures: Vesti. Krasnoyarsk

Anna Trapeznikova posted: 'The school is closed, locals are afraid to go out - the visibility is about 100-150 metres. Two flights are already cancelled - the runway is not visible. 

'Headaches, red eyes, nose and throat aching. It is not possible to get out the settlement.' Locals are advised in megaphone messages not to go out, to abstain from alcohol. 'Everyone waits for rain,' she said. 

Another local resident said: 'Smoke is all around, we can not see even each other. The school is closed, the children did not go to classes. Head aches, throat discomfort, only water helps. Window shutters are closed, but the smoke is in the house.'

Officially, three fires are registered in the region. 

Comments (1)

It's good to hear this catastrophe is being reported, and the first I've heard about the Siberian fires for several months. I honestly assumed, wrongly it appears, that this had been sorted and all the fires extinguished. The local people affected by the smoke and pollution must be at their wits end ! Is rain expected soon ? I guess it will start to get very cold over the next few weeks, but don't know if that would help.
Simon Robinson, Blackburn, England
21/09/2016 01:05
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