Repeat of Russia's catastrophic wildfires likely: Greenpeace

13th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia could again choke in catastrophic wildfires this summer because the authorities are reacting too slowly to the growing threat, environmental campaigners Greenpeace warned Friday.

"The fires in the forests and peat bogs have started earlier and are more dangerous than last year," said Alexei Yaroshenko, head of Greenpeace Russia's forest programme, at a news conference.

Every summer, fires spread across vast areas of Russian forests and peat bogs. Last year a heatwave led to particularly fierce fires and Muscovites choked on the fumes in August, leading to a spike in death rates.

This month, forest fires are already raging in Siberia, the Urals, and far eastern Russia, while peat bogs are smouldering in central Russia, Yaroshenko said.

"In a week's time, the situation risks escalating in a catastrophic manner... and we will have a repeat of last year's situation," he said.

The noxious smoke could veil Moscow a month earlier than last year, in July, he warned.

Peat bogs were drained in Soviet times to extract fuel for experimental power stations. Once alight, the fires are particularly hard to put out because they continue to burn underground.

Peat fires are easier to extinguish at an early stage, but the emergency situations ministry "prefers to hide rather than react to warnings," said Grigory Kuksin, head of Greenpeace Russia's firefighting programme.

"If the appropriate measures are not taken, we will face the same smoke as last year," he said.

Last year a record heatwave and drought caused wildfires in central Russia to spread out of control, killing dozens, burning down thousands of houses and threatening military and nuclear installations.

© 2011 AFP

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