In July of this year, Moscow has set over 10 temperature records for 130 years of local weather monitoring. Of course, abnormally high temperatures were observed not only in the capital, but nearly on the entire territory of Central Russia, Siberia and the Urals.
It would be very strange if such weather would not bring forest and peat fires.
Yet, it seems that the fires happened out of the blue, when no one expected.
According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations website, as of 06am on August 1, 2010, 774 woodland fires have been recorded on the area of 128,525 hectares, of which 369 fires occurred within 24 hours on an area of 13,515.7 hectares. 338 fires on the total area of 14,534 hectares have been extinguished, 438 fires continue to burn on the total area of 113,990.5 hectares, of which 273 fires are localized on the total area of 42,614.7 hectares.”
Extremely difficult situation is prevailing in the central regions: Voronezh, Ryazan, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Moscow, also in Nizhny Novgorod, Mordovia and Tatarstan. In addition to the Central and Volga federal districts, there are considerable complications in the Ural district.
On Saturday, July 31, the head of Emergency Situations Ministry Sergei Shoigu announced likely deterioration of the situation in 17 regions. It is not surprising: in describing the situation in Nizhny Novgorod region, which suffered the most from fires, Shoigu mentioned that the fire travel time has reached 100 meters per minute. This is 6 km per hour, the speed of a fast walking pedestrian. You cannot walk away from a fire like this, you have to run.
All in all, nearly 23,000 fires have been recorded on the total area of 558,000 hectares.
Meanwhile, the heat wave continues. During the entire week the temperature in Moscow will linger on the mark of +38 º to +40 º C.
Firefighters are doing their best. But what can they do under the circumstances of the lack of normal exchange of information, tracking the operational environment, and leadership in the field? There is obvious insufficiency of both people and funds.
Remember the fires of 1972, when the fire seized more than a dozen areas of the Soviet Union.
At that time, operational headquarters were set up under the leadership of the Deputy Minister of the USSR Defense. The system had everything, including people, technology, and discipline.
It was almost a military operation: the fire areas have been divided into squares, and special “troops” - pipeline teams - have been introduced. Peat was literally drowned in water, and then the fire was knocked down.
360,000 people, including over 100 thousand soldiers, were involved in fire fighting simultaneously.
This helped to avoid multimillion-dollar losses and mass deaths.
Currently, the MES is assisted, according to preliminary information, only by a thousand people from the Interior Ministry and the army. The order to involve the army was given only on July 31st and even then in the form of a question like “can you think of something?”
In the USSR there was a network of units for forest protection that used AN-2 and helicopters. They were only capable of transporting relatively small tonnage of water, but they had another function, the timely detection of fires. When the fire is localized, it can be extinguished relatively easily, and without any problems, with the assistance of only firefighters with backpack extinguishers, etc.
But the most important thing is prevention.
Proper forest management, breaking forest lands into manageable units with roads which can take heavy machinery, and so on, are the best preventive measures. In Soviet times any place in populated areas was accessible for fire equipment. Now, according to the Voluntary Society of fire extinguishers, 27 million Russians live, formally speaking, “outside of the normative accessibility.” This means that in case of fire there is no point in calling a fire brigade as they would not be able to get there.
The efficient “forest” Soviet system began to break down in the 90's.The budgetary financing of forest protection was reduced, and commercial harvesting and selling of timber was allowed. Clearly, priorities have changed dramatically, and protection of the forest was no longer a major concern.
The remnants of this mechanism have been destroyed in 2005 when the task of forest protection was taken away from foresters and transferred to the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage. The agency would not be able to cope with the task even if it wanted to, as the resourced for its implementation have not been allocated, and there were no people with the necessary expertise.
In 2007, the state forest protection was abolished completely as redundant.
Currently Russia has no single agency responsible for fire safety on the territory of Russia (MES is legally responsible only for settlements).
Under current legislation, regional administration has the power to combat fires. Yet, without the central coordinating body it is physically impossible to perform any concerted action, or forecast the development of the situation, or move people and technology efficiently.
No funds are allocated specifically for prevention of fires. While forest areas are at least formally the responsibility of the federal subjects and there is at least something done, nothing is ever done on the remaining lands. This is agricultural land, the territory of the land reserve and peat lands. These territories, under current legislation, are no one’s responsibility.
It is impossible to mobilize people from private enterprises. The army is waiting for instructions from the very top. While the information travels from the bottom up and top down, new orders are required.
Meanwhile, the heat wave is still on, and we continue burning.