Russian President Vladimir Putin has described the scale of natural disasters in his country as unprecedented. Authorities in the regions must be prepared to move people to safety if necessary, the head of state said Saturday, according to the Interfax agency. "The first and foremost thing is to save people's lives and health and their property."
Putin warned of the danger of smoke to the elderly and sick in light of the devastating wildfires. In addition, he said, damage to the taiga, which is important for the world's climate, and other forests must be minimized. Plans should also be drawn up for rebuilding destroyed and damaged homes, he urged.
On Saturday, the Forest Protection Agency reported 252 fires nationwide, covering a total area of 4.2 million hectares. That's roughly equivalent to the area of Switzerland. Most of the fires are raging in the constituent republic of Yakutia in eastern Siberia. Drought and winds have favored the spread of flames in the sparsely populated area for weeks. The authorities speak of a "rather difficult situation." The emergency forces are currently trying to prevent the flames from spreading to eleven villages. For this purpose, wider firebreaks have been cut, it was said. Many houses have already burned down. Firefighting aircraft are in action.
Flooding along the Black Sea coast
At the airport in the major city of Yakutsk about 4800 kilometers from Moscow, a second runway is now being used to send additional planes to the region, authorities said. Takeoffs and landings of passenger planes have been affected because of the thick smoke. Hundreds of villages and dozens of towns are suffering.
In the south of Russia, there is flooding along the Black Sea coast after heavy rain. Flooding is also reported in areas in the very east of the country.
"This shows once again how important it is for us to deal intensively and systematically with climate and environmental issues," Putin said. He had recently announced a significant reduction in greenhouse gases, for example. Russia is particularly struggling with the consequences of thawing permafrost. Huge forest fires have occurred repeatedly in the summer months in recent years.
According to official figures, most fires in Russia are not extinguished because they are located in remote areas and thus do not threaten settlements and infrastructure. In addition, extinguishing fires there would be too expensive. According to the Forestry Protection Agency, more than 9500 people are fighting fires across the country. Most of the fires can probably only be extinguished by heavy rain.
Photo by Henrique Malaguti