Now the areas of fires are no longer measured in kilometers, but in hundreds of thousands of hectares. The area covered by fire since the beginning of the year in Russia today is 4.3 million hectares. This is the official data of the Forest Guard based on space monitoring data. But now there are a lot of fires that are not included in the statistics at all. According to the most rough estimates, 16 people died, 72 settlements were affected, and about 1.3 thousand buildings burned down. In the Omsk Region and the Krasnoyarsk Territory, a regional emergency regime has been introduced, and in Khakassia and the Irkutsk Region it operates in the most affected areas and cities.
Last year, fires in Russia destroyed 10 million hectares of forest. This is an area comparable to Hungary or Cuba. What threatens the destruction of forests?
A matter of national security
In February of this year, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) published the Frontiers report, which named wildfires as the most significant environmental problem that will worsen in the coming years and decades. The Frontiers report, in its original version in 2016, warned of the growing threat of zoonoses - infections that are transmitted to humans from animals. This happened four years before the coronavirus pandemic... This report also states that extreme weather events such as extreme heat and increased droughts may be the result of fires.
There are more and more anomalous phenomena due to climate change. In recent years, in different regions of Russia, a rare phenomenon for the Middle Strip has begun to be recorded - a tornado. This misfortune, typical for America, has fallen, for example, on Primorye. “This phenomenon is typical for the USA. The fact is that in America all the old forests have been destroyed, and atmospheric moisture lingers on the coast, as a result, a tornado is formed. That is why it is extremely important that old, wild forests are not destroyed. Forest fires change the climate”, - explains Vladimir Morozov, chairman of the Public Council under the Federal Forestry Agency .
Moreover, fires can become an immediate threat to national security. “It's not just about warming or cooling. Scientists from St. Petersburg have developed the concept of biotic regulation of the environment. It follows from it that forests are a kind of biotic pump that draws moisture from the oceans into the continent at a distance of up to 6-7 thousand km. But these are old forests, large areas with closed crowns. As a result, the water cycle occurs in nature, on land. Moisture evaporates from forests, condenses, and precipitation falls. This is the basis for the conservation of rivers, primarily the full-flowing Siberian rivers of Russia, Lake Baikal. If, as a result of the death of forests, the water cycle on the continent changes, the Siberian rivers will become shallow, they will turn into streams. As a result, the issue of fresh water will arise, and this is already a matter of national security,” Vladimir Morozov believes.
There is another terrible consequence of fires. Every year, doctors make about 650,000 diagnoses associated with malignant neoplasms. Among them, lung cancer has recently begun to occupy a leading position. In 2019, 50,000 Russians died from it. Among the reasons, physicians call environmental pollution due to more frequent fires.
The main cause of fires is man
Why did forests start burning in spring? After all, high temperatures are still far away. In the spring, fires prevail in open spaces or in forests adjacent to settlements, on abandoned agricultural lands. Fire appears first in hayfields, pastures, and in the steppes. Together with burning grass, it spreads to forests and settlements. Various sources say that people were the cause of 90-95% of all fires that occurred.
Recent studies by Russian Greenpeace show that often spring fires are due to attempts to clear land from dry grass with fire. Moreover, they can set fire to the grass not only from hooligan motives or unwillingness to clean it manually. Preventive burning is one of the methods by which forest fires are fought according to GOST: dry grass is burned out under supervision so that it does not catch fire later without it. This burning must be carried out by specialists, according to a strict plan, in certain weather, with preliminary preparation of the site. But in practice this is rarely done. For example, the south of the Krasnoyarsk Territory is now on fire. This is a consequence of the fact that people set fire to the grass there. A strong wind blew the fire. From the grass, he spread to residential buildings. In the summer in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, the area where logging is underway will also burn. These are fires caused by thrown cigarette butts, abandoned campfires, and so on. The forecast for the summer is unfavorable…
The most terrible thing in the history of fires is the death of people. “As a rule, houses in villages and towns catch fire from a fire that approaches buildings on the outskirts - often abandoned houses, sheds, abandoned and grassy areas, and from there, due to strong winds, spreads to residential buildings. When several houses are on fire, firefighters are often unable to contain the spread of the fire, and the fire can engulf many buildings”, - experts from Russian Greenpeace say.
Recently, another cause of fires has hit the news agenda. In its official telegram channel, Rosleskhoz indicates that in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, “according to preliminary data, 350 houses and buildings burned down due to the closure of power lines and electrical substations in settlements”.
An investigation has begun against Rosseti. Investigators detained three employees of Krasnoyarskenergo, a branch of Rosseti Siberia PJSC, in a criminal case on fires. They killed 8 people. All of them were in the center of fires. The investigators also announced the initiation of a criminal case: three employees of the Rosseti Siberia company - Krasnoyarskenergo will be in the dock. They are accused of negligence that caused death, causing death by negligence and performing work or providing services that do not meet the requirements of the life and health of consumers. Investigators believe that the cause of fires in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, in addition to falling grass, were short circuits of electrical wiring and power lines. All this is very strange, considering that 71.5 billion rubles were allocated for the prevention of Rosseti and their preparation for the new season! True, in Rosseti and in the Ministry of Energy they have already found the guilty. These are irresponsible summer residents, heads of municipalities and the wind. In general, anyone, but not Rosseti themselves.
Many responsible, little sense
If we analyze the causes of fires, then they are all different, and they are extinguished by different authorities.
“Fires are different, and each has its own statistics and its own nature. And different officials are responsible for them. Governors are responsible for forest and landscape fires. But there are also Rosleskhoz (reserve) and the Ministry of Emergency Situations (settlements) among those responsible. Today, no one, in fact, maintains consolidated statistics on fires. The good news is that the State Duma is now voting for a bill on changes to the Code of Administrative Offenses, these changes provide for an increase in fines for careless handling of fire. The fine for individuals rises to 30-40 thousand, for legal entities - also a serious increase. But all this will not solve the problem radically. The current forest management system does not allow to cope with forest fires. Rosleskhoz and the governors are trying to do something, but the system does not allow it. The Forest Code was adopted in order to quickly turn wood into money. I would say that the Forest Code in its current form is needed in order to squeeze money out of the forest. It is necessary at the federal level to restore the institution of forestry in the proper quality and quantity. This, by the way, will stop the story of the "black lumberjacks". More effective preventive actions will also begin. Centralization will be the right move: after all, forests do not know administrative boundaries”, - said Vladimir Morozov, chairman of the Public Council under the Federal Forestry Agency .
Experts say that now it comes to paradoxes. For example, the Amur Region is on fire, they put out fires on their own. And the neighboring Khabarovsk Territory is waiting for the fires to come there and cannot help, since these are extra-budgetary expenses, and if the neighbors are helped, the prosecutor's office will come to them. Taking into account the scale of the country, experts believe, sectoral management of the economy is necessary, and the forest industry should become a pioneer in this matter. This is where you have to take responsibility. And which of the officials likes responsibility?
After the fires in the summer of 2010, when the fumes and smoke reached Moscow, amendments were made to the Forest Code. However, the position of forester, responsible for a specific section of the forest assigned to him, was never returned. These responsibilities were shared among other employees. There were not enough people in the forestry, this fact was recognized even by officials. After the fires in the Chelyabinsk region in 2021, Sergey Lavrov, who at that time was the head of the Main Directorate of Forests of the region, spoke about this: “In fact, under the old Forest Code, there were almost 5 times more people. Now there are about 1000 inspectors, all firefighters, and Previously, there were about 5,000 for the entire region. Of course, this is not enough”, - Lavrov complained.
“Before the reform of the forest industry with the introduction of the Forest Code of 2006, the number of forest guards was about four to five times higher than at present. This speaks volumes. Timely detection of fires is possible only with integrated monitoring, where ground patrols, observations from towers and from airborne vehicles play a leading role. Fire does not know administrative boundaries and separation of powers, it easily passes from a burning field or meadow, from grass burns to a forest, and their forests - and settlements. Therefore, the system of prevention of forest and landscape fires should be based on control over the actions of owners and tenants and land users, over the actions of citizens, as well as local governments. In short, emergencies associated with the spread of forest and landscape fires have long needed to be concentrated in one hand. It is quite possible that this should be a special unit for the prevention and extinguishing of forest and landscape fires as part of the Ministry of Emergency Situations” - said Anton Khlynov, a member of the commission on environmental well-being at the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.
“We need a systematic approach: to concentrate all the forces and means, all the responsibility in the same hands, to return the institution of forestry as the basis, the basic element of forest management. Just one example: in Belarus, the Soviet system of forest management has been largely preserved, and everything works, the forests burn quite little. Compare: In 2021, in Russia, the area of forests engulfed in fire was more than 10 million hectares, and in Belarus - only 7 thousand hectares. The difference is significant even taking into account the difference in forest area”, - says Vladimir Morozov, chairman of the Public Council under the Federal Forestry Agency.
For now, people are doing what they can. We really began to allocate more money for the prevention and extinguishing of fires, Rosleskhoz was given more money for aviation patrols, to increase the number of paratrooper firefighters. The funding gap was estimated by experts as follows: about 30 billion a year was allocated for forestry powers, while the need was 100 billion. Last year, after huge resonant fires, it was decided to increase the part of forest subventions that is aimed at fighting fire. This decision has been awaited for many years. But the problem is that only the part that is directly related to extinguishing fires has been increased. The main trouble is that today there is no single responsible person, everyone is engaged in his own part, his own fires.
But in the background of all this, there is good news. Soon it will stop burning, and the spring fires will come to naught. All who put out the flames will report victories. But it will actually be caused by the appearance of green grass.