Wildfire smoke from Ryazan sweeps into Moscow
September 5, 2022
Forest fires have been burning across Russia since spring, but a recent outbreak in Ryazan Region has brought smoke into the capital, sending government officials scrambling to respond.
Smog from forest fires in Tuma, Klepikovskiy district, Ryazan region. Source: Wiki Commons
Wildfires in the Ryazan region continue to grow weeks after residents of Moscow and the Moscow region began reporting a burning smell and smoke in the air. As of September 3, the fires spread over a total area of 26 thousand hectares. Several federal agencies have confirmed that smoke observed in the Moscow area is coming from Ryazan, where wildfires started back in mid August. Greenpeace Russia reports that the current fires started in the same area as the catastrophic 2010 forest fires, which then blanketed Moscow in heavy smog.

On August 23, Ryazan Acting Governor Pavel Malkov declared a state of emergency for the region due to the fires. Malkov announced that the heads of the Emergency Situations Ministry and Aerial Forest Protection Service (Avialesokhrana), among other federal agency leaders and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, have come to the region to coordinate efforts aimed at putting out the wildfires.

Officials in Ryazan claim that the wildfires were caused by dry thunderstorms and first started in difficult-to-reach areas. However, the Federal Forestry Agency, which manages federally owned forested lands, says that Ryazan officials covered up the true scale of the fires, which meant that the agency didn’t deploy enough wildfire responders in time. Greenpeace Russia also notes that, while the exact cause of the fires is yet unidentified, contrary to accounts by local officials, the absence of thunderstorms and other natural phenomena in the area means that they were likely caused by humans. A strong drought, heat and wind contributed to the rapid spread of the fires.

Russia is currently in the second peak of the wildfire season. While forest fires this year have so far been less destructive than the 2021 record season, they are nevertheless creating challenges for regional governments to manage them. Since late July, forest fires have raged in several regions, concentrated in Yakutia, Magadan, Khanty-Mansiysk, Chukotka and Khabarovsk. As of August 22, forest fires had devastated 105,800 hectares of land across Russia. At the time, Yakutia recorded the largest fire with an area of 82,446 hectares.

In a recent statement by Greenpeace Russia, representatives from the organization said that current official data does not accurately reflect the true scale of the wildfires going on in the country. It cites the number of what are called “control zone” fires. (Control zones are areas where officials aren’t required to put out a wildfire if the estimated cost of putting it out exceeds the cost of its predicted damage). According to official data, as of July 29, 149 fires were burning on an area of approximately 49,500 hectares, whereas 158 fires were burning in control zones, with an area of around 780,000 hectares.

Learn more about how Russia deals with wildfires in our explainer.

Digest by Mack Tubridy for the Russia.Post editorial team.
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