Wildfires in Russia have so far burned down an area larger than the size of Greece, according to Greenpeace Russia. On Monday, the environmental organization criticized government officials for their inaction in the region amid record heat waves.
Using satellite data, Greenpeace Russia reported an estimated 19 million hectares, about 47 million acres, of forests, steppes and fields have burned across Siberia since January. About 10 million hectares of these territories suffered forest fires.
The fires have become an annual occurrence, but record-breaking heat last month has intensified the damage. Greenpeace Russia said authorities have not done enough to improve conditions.
“It’s another year that Russian authorities have failed to stop these fires risking local communities and contributing to climate change,” the organization said Monday.
While most of the fires occur in remote areas, Greenpeace said harmful smoke has spread to larger cities, as well as many small towns and villages. This smoke is negatively affecting air quality in the region, which could exacerbate the symptoms of COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases.
“Russia’s sprawling Siberia region became a climate hotspot, heating up much faster than the rest of the planet. This summer has already brought extreme heat waves, oil spills caused by thawing permafrost, and raging forest fires – what next before we finally act on climate?” said Greenpeace Russia Wildfire Unit Head Grigory Kuksin. “Russian authorities must work fast to stop cities being filled with toxic smoke haze. It’s to stop economic cutbacks on forest protection and support national forestry to protect our health and our climate.”
Activists said that some of the forest fires are the result of lightning, but many were started by campfires on river banks. Another cause is purposeful large-scale burnings that get out of hand.