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Military expertise is deployed to battle Siberian forest fires

By The Siberian Times reporter
29 July 2012

The war on smog took on a new dimension as deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin proposed using advanced pinpoint airborne firefighting technology to tackle blazes raging across many regions.

Space image of the wildfires in Western Siberia. Picture: NASA

This came as Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov took personal charge of Siberia's worst-hit area in Tomsk region. 

'We will probably have to meet immediately with the Military-Industrial Commission and the Academy of Sciences' Siberian Department to discuss how advanced optical and thermal vision know-how could be used in pinpoint airborne firefighting operations in conditions of poor visibility and thick smoke,'  Rogozin told premier Dmitry Medvedev.

The issue would be a priority in the coming week amid continued forecasts of hot weather.  'I would ask the Defense Ministry to join this work,' said Rogozin.

Recent days have seen the deployment of Defence Ministry aircraft, for example in Krasnoyark region, said  Puchkov.  

'Two Il-76 planes of the Russian Defence Ministry have been sent in order to protect crucial facilities and settlements,' he said.  Mi-8 helicopters were also used, but the intensity of smoke in some regions meant they had to be grounded at various times in recent days. 

More than 300 paratroopers are sent to Krasnoyarsk and Tomsk regions to help fighting the wildfires, and some 3,000 firefighters were working in Krasnoyarsk region. 

Tomsk Airport re-opened after two days closed due to smoke fumes. In Tomsk region, three Il-76 planes and four Be-200 aircraft were among 11 aircraft used to counter the fire threat. 

'The fact that the situation has improved is the first result of the joint work by all structures,' he said. 

'Heavy aviation works day and night to put out fires and protect territories,' he said.

Some 1,110 tonnes of water were dropped by planes and helicopters on fires in Tomsk region, said the Russian Emergencies Ministry. 

Despite this, there are still 34 fires burning in the Tomsk region covering more than 8,000 hectares .  

'Residents feel discomfort because of the smoke. But the key task now is to avoid fires in settlements,' he said.

Residents in Tomsk bought  masks and reports said there was 'a rush for oxygen in containers, and kits for making oxygen cocktails have already run out. Mostly asthma sufferers and pregnant women buy them'.

Across Siberia the forest fires are said to be around 20 per cent worse than last summer. Smoke from the infernos has reached western areas of the US and Canada.

Puchkov said that the fires are being monitored by space satellites. 'All information is given to the municipal leaders,' he said. 

Despite extensive damage to forests, the fire-fighting operation has successfully avoided significant damage to remote settlements. 

'We managed to avoid losses and damages of the economy's major facilities, all systems of communication and energy supplies are functioning properly, and all settlements are protected from fires', said Puchkov. 

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