Russia battles wildfires amid record warm weather

MOSCOW (AFP) – Wildfires raging in Siberia in record summer temperatures have decreased considerably over the past week, Russia’s forest service said yesterday, as it battles blazes by cloud seeding and explosives.

Freakishly warm weather across large swathes of Siberia since January, combined with low soil moisture, have contributed to a resurgence of wildfires that devastated the region last summer, the European Union’s climate monitoring network said this week.

Both the number and intensity of fires in Siberia and parts of Alaska have increased since mid-June, resulting in the highest carbon emissions for the month – 59 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – since records began in 2003, it said.

Russia’s Aerial Forest Protection Service said it was trying to suppress 136 fires over 430 square kilometres as of yesterday.

Firefighters are using explosives to contain the fires and using cloud seeding with silver iodide to encourage rain, it said.

However most of the fires have been deemed too remote and expensive to handle, with over 333,000 hectares currently ablaze in areas where all firefighting efforts have stopped, it said.

This is considerably smaller than a week ago, when the service reported fires over a total of two million hectares.

From mid-June, regions in Russia’s far north, including beyond the Arctic circle, have registered unprecedented heat records.

Russia’s weather service expert Roman Vilfand had said anti-cyclones – which create abnormally clear skies with no clouds or rain – had increased in the northern hemisphere.