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The moon over Baikal glittered in different way, like you are looking at sable fur

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Ian Frazier, 2013

Alarming wildfires rage near giant ‘Mouth of Hell’ gash in the tundra, a wonder of Siberia

By The Siberian Times reporter
13 June 2019

Destruction of trees by flames could see Batagai Depression ‘rapidly enlarge’ while remote local settlements also threatened.

Wildfires in the vicinity have four epicentres. Picture: Social media

The fires are now raging some 10 to 15 kilometres from the megaslump crater - a large hole in the frozen Arctic soil which highlights the dramatic speed of thawing permafrost. 

The Batagaika or Batagai "megaslump" is a tadpole-shaped depression around one kilometre long, 800 metres wide and 100 metres deep.

It is growing by some 15 to 30 metres a year - but if it is hit by the nearby inferno this would destroy trees on its rim and loosen the soil even more, resulting in further collapses.

Batagai area fires


Batagai area fires


Batagai area fires


Batagai area fires

Meanwhile social media reports from locals spoke of  ‘a large, aggressive fire’ near Betenkes village which destroyed houses, barns, and haymaking fields. Pictures: Vesti Verkhoyanya, Social media

Changes in the local climate have seen an ‘almost snowless’ winter in this northern outpost with dry weather exacerbating the risk of wildfires spreading. 

Wildfires in the vicinity have four epicentres, say in Verkhoyansk district in Yakutia region also known as Sakha Republic. 

Head of the district, Gavril Chirikov, reported the arrival of firefighting teams with some 58 people in total deployed mainly on saving villages. 

‘Natural fires also threaten the village of Batagai,’ he said.

Volunteer firefighters go into the forest


Volunteer firefighters at work

Volunteer firefighters go into the forest to extinguish the fire. Pictures: Social media

This settlement is some 8km from the world famous natural phenomenon. 

A local oil depot is reported under threat.

Meanwhile social media reports from locals spoke of  ‘a large, aggressive fire’ near Betenkes village which destroyed houses, barns, and haymaking fields.

Temperatures are 30C with no rain forecast. 

Batagai area fires


Batagai area fires


Batagai area fires

Temperatures are 30C with no rain forecast. Pictures: Social media 

Scientists are concerned over the fire reaching the depression. 

Dr Petr Danilov, of the Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North, in Yakutsk, said: ‘If the wildfires access the  depression, it surely will have a strong impact on the speed it grows.’

Known by some as the ‘Mouth of Hell’, a locals see this spectacular crater as superstitious, and call it the "gateway to the underworld".

Batagai depression


Batagai depression

The Batagaika or Batagai "megaslump" is a tadpole-shaped depression around one kilometre long, 800 metres wide and 100 metres deep. Pictures: Slava Stepanov

The gash in the tundra was caused by the Soviets, who cleared forest here, but it is now being enlarged and shaped by climate change, according to scientists.

In the depression, scientists found a perfectly preserved prehistoric baby horse, an extinct foal from the cold-resistant Lenskaya species. 

There are hopes DNA from the foal will allow scientists to clone the species back to life.

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